Parents preparing to send their college-age children off to school may be feeling some anxiety about how to prepare or what to tell them about living away from home during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Jessica Higgs, MD, director of Health Services at Bradley University and is on staff at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, has children entering high school and middle school. But, “I consider and treat all 4,000-plus students at Bradley University as ‘my kids,’” said Dr. Higgs, who specializes in family medicine and sports medicine.
Dr. Higgs offers the top five things parents should advise their college student, in addition to advice for student athletes.
Q. What practical things should parents discuss with their kids to help them navigate being away from home safely during COVID-19.
A. I would offer this advice:
1. Wear your mask!
This is not a political statement. It is also not the appropriate tactic for an act of defiance. This is a medical recommendation that should be followed. We know that face coverings limit the amount of respiratory droplets that make it into the air, and current data suggests this limits the spread of the virus.
2. Wash your hands!
This recommendation goes for any year to help keep illness to a minimum. Developing a good hand hygiene regimen during the pandemic will help minimize infections in the future as well.
3. Keep your distance!
Ask yourself, does a situation feel crowded to you? We have been working at physical distancing for six months now so things that used to feel normal may feel uncomfortable now. Listen to that inner voice. If it feels crowded, it is probably not a place you should be.
Campuses have moved furniture, separated desks, and placed many physical reminders around campus to have students, faculty and staff space out. You can continue to be social, just at a physically safe distance.
4. Go outside!
Studies have shown that outside is the place to be, so use the nice weather in the first few weeks of class to take advantage of that. Teachers may move classes outside and group meetings could be on the quad. Rather than cramming in your tiny dorm room, spread out on the patio outside (wearing sunscreen, of course).
Campuses are taking precautions, but be aware of your community as well. If the school you are attending is in an urban setting, it will affect the campus. Campuses often feel like they have a bubble around them, but in actuality there is a lot of drift on and off campus. Shops, restaurants and bars are frequented by students, and if the disease is high in the community, it has the potential of being brought on campus. The risks don’t change on and off campus. Behaviors that are required on campus will also help mitigate risk off campus.
5. Stay with your group!
This may be the hardest one. College is a great time to meet a lot of interesting people and make lifelong friends. However, that constant mixing seems to be a thing the virus thrives on. Once a group has been established – a residence hall floor, people you have lots of classes with, an extra-curricular group, whatever the case may be – try to stay with that group as much as you can.
This can limit potential exposures and need to quarantine. This is also not the year to make frequent trips off campus unless to see immediate family. Students mixing with friends at other schools or those still at home raises the risk of exposure and potentially bringing the virus back to campus.
Q. What should student-athletes know?
A. Their coaches, administrators and sports medicine teams have also spent all summer trying to figure out how they can play the sport they love safely. Unfortunately, information is changing daily. The season, if it occurs, will look different. It may be shorter, it may have less travel, and practices may be structured differently.
You may have fewer one-on-one interactions with your coaches. It is currently impossible to have a “normal” season, so they should prepare for changes and try to adapt as best they can. The frustration level may be very high at times, so communication with parents, coaches, teammates and other supports will be key.
Trusted sources of information
Before you travel, check the latest risk-levels by state and county.
For guidelines and factual information about COVID-19, arm yourself with accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read more advice from Dr. Higgs for parents sending their college-age kids off to school during a pandemic.