What to do once your college student arrives home.

In my previous post, I shared recommendations on the protocols you and your college student should follow before they return home for Thanksgiving Break. In this second post, you’ll learn guidelines to follow once your college student arrives home, especially for those who weren’t tested before leaving campus. Again, I interviewed Dr. Bill Miller, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and Senior Associate Dean for Research at The Ohio State University College of Public Health for his expert advice.

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If all members of the household, including the student, have tested negative, should everyone just continue to follow the normal guidelines they have been to stay safe? 

In the ideal situation, the family would practice physical distancing and wear masks as much as possible. 

For students who arrive home without having taken a test on campus, I assume there are different protocols to follow. 
Does the student get tested? What do they do while waiting for results?

Testing after arriving home can be helpful if the college didn’t have exit testing. The student should self-quarantine as much as possible while waiting for the results.

Does the student quarantine in a room for 14 days?

If it is possible for the student to quarantine after arrival, that is the safest thing to do. That approach allows the student and the family to be sure that the student doesn’t have COVID-19. A key question in this circumstance though is what the student was doing before coming home. If the student can quarantine or at least limit exposure before coming home, the time in quarantine at home can be shortened.

Does everyone wear masks inside for 14 days?

Wearing masks inside all day long is challenging, but it can be done. I would say that it is more feasible to wear a mask when people are in the same room. If the student is upstairs in the bedroom and the rest of the family is downstairs, masks are not really needed.

Can everyone eat together? Can they enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner together?

Yes, but it will need to be a physically distanced dinner. The student should be separated from the rest of the family. Time to bring the kids’ table back out!

If grandparents or others have been part of the family’s “pod,” can they still interact once the college student is home?

I would try to keep the most vulnerable people away from the student for a quarantine period of 14 days. This approach is sometimes called reverse quarantine, where those who are vulnerable are separated from the population that may have a greater chance of infection.

In households where families live in tight quarters and there isn’t a separate room for a student to quarantine, what options do they have?

The first option is to have the student do their very best to self-quarantine for 14 days before they come home. At home, the best options are to maintain physical distancing in the house, wear masks and spend as much time as possible outside. If the student normally shares a room, it might be possible to move the other person to another room for the two-week quarantine period.

Other protocols the student and family should follow?

The main thing is to spend as much time outside together as possible, even if it is cold. 

Any other recommendations or suggestions? 

I have four things to emphasize: First, no testing program is perfect, so students can be falsely reassured by a negative test result. Stay cautious even with a negative test. 

Second, be prepared. Do some homework to understand the local situation—most counties or states have a dashboard, and the college situation—most schools also have a dashboard. Look at the number of cases. Is the situation getting worse or better? Are cases rising at home or on campus? The more concern in either the local situation or the college, the more important it is to be extra cautious.

Third, COVID-19 risk is a function of time, space, people, place—and don’t forget your face. Thinking through this mnemonic can help people assess what level of risk they are willing to take. Time is the duration that people are together in any given setting. Space is physical distancing. People are who is in your “bubble” and who isn’t—expand the bubble and you increase the risk. Place means stay outdoors when you can.

Four, COVID-19 can be very serious, even in young people. Be cautious, be smart about exposures. But remember that there isn’t one right answer for everyone. And even if you can’t be together, find other ways to connect. 

I hope most of your questions were answered in these two posts from my interview with Dr. Bill Miller. For more information, check out these  recommendations from the American College Health Association

Have a safe holiday!