Colleges tell students leaving for Thanksgiving to get tested and remain at home over Covid fears

'We want to make sure that we are not having virus travel from our campuses back into people's homes’

Louise Hall
Thursday 19 November 2020 16:24
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Colleges are asking students travelling home for thanksgiving across the US to get tested before leaving and stay at home for the remainder of the semester due to coronavirus fears.

Amidst the ongoing spike in cases of coronavirus across the US, a number of colleges are taking stringent measures in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus across the holidays.

Officials and experts have warned that families should avoid hosting large gatherings and travelling long distances for the holidays over fears it could significantly contribute to the spread of the virus.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told The New York Times that people often maintain a false sense of security if they just invite family or trusted friends and “almost subconsciously let their guard down”.

“They don’t realise they’ve come in from multiple cities, spent time in airports. They come to a house where Grandma and Grandpa are, or someone with an underlying condition, and they innocently and inadvertently bring infection into a home. It’s dangerous. You’ve got to be careful," he said.

USA Today reported that amidst the fears, Syracuse University in New York announced last week that it would conclude in-person teaching, cutting the semester short as the state grapples with rising cases.

The University of Wisconsin is allowing students to travel and return to campus if they test negative before leaving and twice again when returning to college, the outlet reports.

“If these standards cannot be met, students should not be allowed to return into any classroom or congregated setting following the Thanksgiving break,” Tommy Thompson, the interim president of the UW System reportedly said in a letter to the chancellors of the system.

Rohin Balkundi, a student at The University of Texas at Austin, told the newspaper he is planning to be tested on Thursday and then leave on Saturday for the holiday as part of the university’s weekly testing scheme.

Texas became the first state in the US to surpass one million cases and Mr Balkundi told USA Today that he is afraid of testing positive before he returns home and being forced to isolate.

"It starts the whole chain all over again," he said. "And that's something the state as a whole has been struggling with and the country is struggling with."

The State University of New York has also started requiring students to test negative before returning home and its 64 campuses are moving to virtual instruction after the holiday, according to the outlet.

Institutions will remain open for students who must quarantine or isolate if they test positive for the virus, according Jim Malatras, who is chancellor of the system.

The variety of guidelines and regulations come after the AAA projected that around 50 million Americans could travel for Thanksgiving this year.

The group said that based on October models they would have expected a drop from 55 million travelling in 2019 to 50 million this year.

Travel by car across the holidays is projected to account for 95 per cent of all holiday journeys at 47.8 million travellers, AAA said.

In an attempt to control the virus, Michigan has also ordered that in-person instruction for private and public colleges stop for at least three weeks, effectively ending in-person instruction before this semester's finals.

The state of North Carolina is recommending mass testing before students leave for the holidays, but this isn’t mandatory, said Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s secretary of Health and Human Services.

"We want to make sure that we are not having virus travel from our campuses back into people's homes as they go home," Ms Cohen told USA Today.

The CDC advises that the “safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household”.

They warn that even “small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in Covid-19 cases” which have passed 11 million across the country.

Despite this, some institutions have offered little to no guidance for students planning to travel home.

In cases where the university or college has not provided recommendations, Gerri Taylor, who co-chairs the American College Health Association’s task force on coronavirus, told the newspaper that students should seriously consider quarantine before travelling and attempt to get tested.

However, she warned of over-reliance on testing, suggesting that a negative result could give a false sense of security to students.

“If they test positive, they really need to be isolated for 10 days,” Ms Taylor said. “Because otherwise they will for sure spread when traveling or when they get home.”

Coronavirus cases in the US have surpassed 11 million since the outbreak gripped the country in March, leading to the deaths of over 250,000 people.

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