Doctor offers advice to families with college students returning home amid pandemic

November 18, 2020

As coronavirus cases continue to rise around the country, the ongoing pandemic has upended Thanksgiving plans for millions of Americans.

Health experts have advised families to have smaller dinners outdoors, rather than the typical large gathering indoors. In addition, traveling to visit relatives in other states has also been discouraged.

Now a leading educational health organization is urging college students to consider staying on campus rather than return home for the holiday.

"We would encourage students not to go home and the reason is that we know with travel comes risk of exposure," Dr. Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association COVID-19 Task Force, told "Good Morning America." "So we would prefer students stay on campus and do a virtual Thanksgiving with their family."

Despite the advice, it's inevitable that some students will make the trek to spend the holiday with their loved ones.

For those returning home for Thanksgiving, a family practice doctor has advice on how to do it as safely as possible during the pandemic.

Cook County Health family practice Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal said it’s not a bad idea for college students to be tested for COVID before they return home and quarantine at school as best they can before making the return trip. They may also need to quarantine at home, she said, especially if there are more at-risk people who live in the home: people who are older or who have medically-fragile conditions.

The doctor said it may be that for some days after a college student returns home, to keep family as safe as can be, masks should be worn and physical distancing kept even in the home.

"This is a really hard year. Nobody’s questioning that. And, we have to be very creative in how we’re doing things, but it’s worth it if the outcome means that we’re all there to celebrate next year," Dr. Rajagopal said.

And, if the college students refuse to quarantine, because they badly want to see friends, she suggests, "If they’re going to be out and about and we can’t keep them quarantined or isolated, then just reiterating the basics: masking, social distancing, hand-washing."

Bottom line from what Dr. Rajagopal calls “this horrible year”--staying healthy is the most important thing. "

We’re all struggling through this, but we have to try and keep it in perspective," she said.

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