College-aged male bringing school supplies home.

Advice on handling a holiday college break due to COVID-19 

Many colleges are ending in person classes at Thanksgiving due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This eliminates the risk of sending a majority of students off campus, only for them to return five to seven days later and possibly, and unknowingly, bringing with them an exposure to the virus.

It is important for parents to remember, however, that the semester is not over. Most schools are simply finishing the last few weeks exclusively online.

It may feel that your son or daughter has a much extended holiday break. But they are actually going be living at home during some of their most stressful weeks of the semester, said Jessica Higgs, MD, who is director of Health Services at Bradley University and is on staff at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

What your student needs

For students moving home, they are going to need to establish their study routine in a new environment. That can be hard to do.

Parents should help their student set up the best possible learning environment as they navigate the final weeks of the semester and experience taking semester finals online.

“If your student doesn’t have morning classes and typically sleeps and then stays up late at night to study because that’s what they’ve been doing at college, it’s probably best not to adjust that schedule right away,” Dr. Higgs said.

What parents and siblings need

Students need to remember that their parents and siblings have also developed a routine without them.

“They have also been experiencing COVID-19, racial injustice and an election, but their experience may be different than what life was like on campus,” she said. “Even so, everyone is a little more stressed than usual this holiday season and everyone needs to be a little more tolerant of family and friends.”

Traveling at this time

Just as with any other travel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that you look at the prevalence rate of COVID-19 in the area where you are and where you are traveling to.

The American College Health Association (ACHA) also recommends students consider quarantining once they return home.

“If the student’s college is experiencing an outbreak shortly before being sent home, it is a good idea for them to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving home,” Dr. Higgs said. “Having their own bathroom and not eating meals with the family may ensure a healthy and happy holiday season after those two weeks have passed.”

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The ACHA says if quarantine is not possible, students should stay physically distant from family household members, wear a face covering, and avoid close contact, including hugging and shaking hands, for the first 14 days home.

Parents also need to remember that this works in reverse.

If the prevalence rate of the disease is high in their hometown, but the college has been relatively disease free, they are more likely to give the virus to their student than vice versa.

It may be, Dr. Higgs said, that parents need to quarantine for 14 days when the student returns home so as to not expose them.

Preparing for the time together

Both parents and students can help prepare for the upcoming holidays by making smart choices for the two weeks prior to the travel days as well.

Limiting interactions, avoiding social settings or areas were masking and physical distancing are more loosely enforced can make everyone feel more confident when they arrive in their new environment.

Testing before leaving campus

Some colleges and universities are mandating students get tested before leaving for the holiday break.

“But it is important to remember that this is a point in time test and does not guarantee that they did not contract the virus shortly before leaving or during the travel home from college,” Dr. Higgs said.

The ACHA’s guidelines also recommends students get tested upon arriving home and to contact their primary care provider if they aren’t feeling well.

Check in on their mental health

Take the time to have conversations with them about what’s happening in the world. Talk to them about how they’re handling the stress of being away from home during a pandemic.

Let them know it’s OK to feel some uncertainty or anxiety and reassure them that they can always reach out to you. Remind them that when they return to campus, there are resources available to help support them.

Make the most of it

When it comes down to it, as parents, you’re probably going to feel relieved to have your student home under your roof for what could be nearly two months as COVID-19 cases are expected to surge across the nation.

For students, it also may be a relief to be around family and in an environment where they feel safe and cared for.

While there will be stresses and adjustments for everyone, embrace this time.

But most of all, take the time to have fun together – play some of the family’s favorite games, watch holiday movies that have become a tradition or take the opportunity to expand on your holiday baking time.

Most of all, just be thankful everyone is home and safe for the holidays.

About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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Categories: COVID-19