Because of the pandemic, many college students are coming home to finish the semester, either because of cases on campus, or because colleges are sending everyone home for Thanksgiving and not having them come back until the next term.
This situation requires some thought and planning, so as to keep everyone safe — and sane. Here are some things families need to think about.
Will your college student bring the COVID-19 virus home with them?
Many colleges have been having outbreaks, and infections can be asymptomatic. How you handle the return of college students to your household depends on the situation at their school, the possibility of exposures, and how often they have been tested. If cases are low and they are tested regularly (once a week at least), the risk is far less than if the case numbers are high and testing is sporadic. Make sure you find out the situation at the school, and before coming home your student should isolate as much as possible for as long as possible (two weeks would be ideal, but that may not be realistic), and get tested within a few days of the planned return home. If they have any symptoms of COVID-19, they should contact student health services and be tested before making any plans to come home.
How safe is their trip home?
The best way for them to come home is by a one-day trip in the car (theirs or yours), with minimal stops and nobody but them or you in the car. If they have to fly, or if the drive involves overnight stays, that increases the risk.
What state requirements will they need to follow?
Many states require quarantine on arrival; if you don’t know your state’s requirements, find out.
What about testing?
Remember that testing for the virus that causes COVID-19 only really tells you how you are at that moment. The incubation period for COVID-19 is two to 14 days. If you test a few days after an exposure (which you might not even know you had), you could test negative when you actually have an infection brewing. A negative test in someone who has been isolating for a couple of weeks is very different from a negative test in someone who has been around other people. To learn more about testing — such as whether a PCR test is more reliable than an antigen test (it is) — click here.
It’s best not to get too close at first
Because of all this, as tempting as it may be to hug your college student when they arrive home, it’s probably best to keep some distance for a bit. How distant you have to be and for how long, and if/when you should have them tested, will depend on symptoms, possible exposures at school, whether and when they were tested, and how they traveled home. Check with your doctor for advice.
House rules in a pandemic: It’s a two-way street
You will need house rules for safety. It’s understandable that your student may want to visit friends when they get home, but this year everything is different. Your state’s rules — such as a quarantine period — will come into play here, obviously. But even after any necessary quarantine is over, your teen needs to stay safe to keep everyone safe. That means wearing masks and social distancing while with friends. There may be some friends and family that you welcome into your “bubble” if you know enough about how they live their daily lives, but that’s a decision that you need to make as a family. It’s not a decision teens can make on their own — because during the pandemic, our decisions can be deadly to others.
You need to be understanding and respectful if your student is still doing classes. That means making sure that they have a space to work that is private, staying quiet during their remote classes, and tailoring your expectations of them to allow for the schedule and demands of those classes.
Your student needs to be understanding and respectful of your daily life and needs too. Staying up late in a way that keeps others who need to work or go to school in the morning awake isn’t okay, for example. And students need to be considerate when it comes to mess, laundry, chores, food supplies, and everything else involved in running a household. Having a discussion about these house rules is a good idea too.
This is a tough time for everyone. It may be disappointing to leave school, and families are under stress in so many ways. So find ways to cut everyone slack — and find ways to have fun. We’ll make it through this, but we’ll all be in better shape if we are kind to each other and ourselves.
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