As we approach the final weeks of the fall term, we’re all eager to get back home and celebrate Thanksgiving and have a normal holiday. But unfortunately, that cannot happen this year. According to the COVID Exit Strategy, all but one state is trending poorly, and the country as a whole has seen its highest reports of new cases in the past few weeks. Some experts predict that 400,000 Americans will have died of COVID-19 by the end of the year.
Holiday travel is especially risky for students that have been taking classes in person and are living on campus, away from their families. It’s been widely reported that premature campus reopenings fueled outbreaks in college towns nationwide. While many of those colleges plan to have exam and reading days be fully remote after Thanksgiving, meaning students will not need to come back to campus, the move to disperse thousands of residential college students back to their hometowns could make this third wave of the pandemic even worse.
We need governors to greatly increase testing capacity, and in some cases, shut back down again to prevent uncontrolled spread. But, in the meantime, if you’re planning to head back home for Thanksgiving break or gather with family for the holidays, consider the following strategies:
- Quarantine for 14 days before you return home, and make sure your family members do so as well.
- Get tested before you go and limit your contact with others until you reach your destination. If you test positive or develop symptoms, cancel your plans. Even pre-COVID, most dorms offered this option for students who weren’t leaving town for academic breaks. Ask your building director how to request to stay in your dorm over break.
- Evaluate travel distance, including how many stops, overnight stays and potential contact with non-household contacts it would take to reach your destination, and see if driving versus taking a flight is better given those factors.
- Limit the number of people at gatherings. There’s no magic number–more people pose more risk. The size of the gathering depends on the host’s ability to safely keep attendees apart, not crowded into a confined space, and outdoors is better than indoors.
- Socially distance and wear masks, even if you’ve all been tested. Being tested with a negative result isn’t necessarily a free pass to mingle without preventative measures. If you’ve quarantined for 14 days already, you can merge your social bubbles and interact freely but cautiously.
- If your holiday meal involves people outside of your immediate family, try having it outside. When eating your meal together inside, open your windows to increase ventilation and keep at least 6 feet apart, or keep family units together, while spacing out non-household members.
- Minimize the number of people handling the food and washing the dishes.
- If you or a family member are at higher risk for severe infection, and your campus housing situation allows it, you should reconsider gathering together and instead celebrate virtually.
Is this your picture of a normal holiday scene? Probably not. But we’re not living in normal times. Let’s keep each other safe, and do what it takes now to be able to come together for the holidays safely.