College Life And Holiday Homecomings: COVID-19 Prevention Strategies

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College life combined with the COVID-19 pandemic is enough to make any parent worry. So, what can parents do to influence their children – now young adults – to take steps to stay safe at school and not spread coronavirus when they come home for the holidays?

As with any sensitive subject between parent and young adult: Be honest. Be frank. Explain the facts.

“We need to be treating college students like adults. We need to be explaining the why,” says Roberto Colón, MD, Premier Health vice president of quality and safety and associate chief medical officer at Miami Valley Hospital.

He notes the messages they’ve received that COVID-19 mostly affects older people lead them to conclude that even if they get the virus, they won’t have adverse effects. “In fact, there are countless examples of young people who have not only had severe illness, but have died. Young people need to understand that. I think that's a piece that parents have to emphasize,” Dr. Colón says.

Secondly, parents need to communicate clearly that doctors are seeing more and more effects of COVID-19 beyond the two weeks of illness, sometimes with devastating consequences.

What you say is only part of the strategy, he notes. Modeling safe behavior is also extremely important. A parent’s directive to wear a mask and avoid social activities doesn’t make an impact unless the parent is following the same advice.

“The worst thing parents can do is say, ‘Masks are stupid. You shouldn’t use one,’” Dr. Colón says. “They’re sending the wrong message to kids. Masks absolutely do work. They are key in how we’re going to be able to manage this until we’re able to get a different preventative strategy.”

He acknowledges the difficulties in persuading young people who have looked forward to the social activities of college to be told they can’t take part. They need to understand why social distancing is important, he says.

Home For the Holidays

What occurs at college may also have a big impact on college students’ return home for the winter holidays.

If you have people at home who are at risk for contracting the virus, practice social distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene with those people for the first five days a college student is home to help ensure they weren’t exposed to anything before they left school, says Marc Belcastro, DO, chief medical officer at Premier Health.

“There is a reasonable in-between to getting your children home for the holidays and still being safe,” he says.

Other ways to promote healthier homecomings:

  • If students have the option, driving is safer than flying when it comes to COVID-19 transmission. Limit stops along the way and wear a mask while filling the gas tank, using the restroom and buying food. Also, practice social distancing and use hand sanitizer. If you’re traveling with other students, wear masks during your drive.
  • If students are flying home, try to book the flight with an airline that has strict mask-wearing policies, which go a long way toward preventing spread of the virus. Also keep the mask on while in the airport and practice good hand hygiene.
  • Once at home, limit the size of family gatherings to lower the risk of spreading the disease.
  • If you are getting together with a group outside your immediate household for events like Thanksgiving dinner, consider wearing masks unless you are eating.
  • Get a flu shot, to be sure to minimize the possibility of this additional health threat.
  • Students may want to get tested for COVID-19 before they come home and again when they return to school.
  • If grandparents or other family members are at particular risk, consider finding remote ways to connect with them via phone or video visits.

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Headshot of Roberto Colón, MD

Roberto Colón, MD

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Mark Belcastro, DO

System Chief Medical Officer, Premier Health