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Published on July 27, 2020

Going to College During COVID-19: Tips for College Students and Their Parents

Going to College During COVID-19: Tips for College Students and Their Parents

Heading to college this fall? Get COVID-19 physical and emotional health tips in this week's 2 Your Well-Being discussion with infectious disease specialist Cynthia Snider, MD, MPH; licensed clinical psychologist David Gutterman, PhD; and WFMY News 2.

Some college students may think they don’t need to worry about COVID-19. What advice do you have about COVID-19 for a young person who is going to college?

Snider: “So, like many people in the community, I think it's super important to still wear a mask and also still try to maintain social distancing. Then also practice hand hygiene and watch for symptoms. Know that if you are having some symptoms that are consistent with COVID, it's good to talk to your student health clinic and also quarantine.

“The majority of cases in North Carolina are in age groups that also include college students. So even though a college student may not get sick enough to be hospitalized, they still can get pretty sick. That takes them out of class and potentially affects their roommates or their classmates and their families. So it's incredibly important to still follow those three Ws.”

How can college students reduce exposure while they're on a college campus?

Snider: “I know a lot of the college organizers around Guilford County as well as in Alamance County are working incredibly hard to create that social distance. So, for a student, if you have an option to be in a single dorm, I think that's perfect. Still, when you're congregating or going out to classes, always wearing a face mask is the new ritual, I would say. And hand hygiene. Going to get your meals at the cafeteria is going to look much different. Try to eat outdoors. Some of the classes you choose may be staggered, some of them will be in smaller sections, run by TAs. And then also, for those bigger classes, it makes sense to do online schooling sessions instead.”

What advice do you have for students who may be anxious about going away to college during a pandemic?

Gutterman: “There are different kinds of worries depending upon what the students' experiences have been for this last number of months of COVID. So, for example, there are some students who will be worried about transmission of the virus, and again, that can depend upon if they've had lost loved ones, or they've been sick themselves, or have immune compromised family members. So they have very specific types of concerns about how they're going to protect themselves. They sometimes have worries and concerns about an early return home, if they're going to come home on weekends or if they're going to be sent home after a month of being at school…

“For these students, it's important to recognize that their concerns are certainly normal. There are other like-minded students, and they need to remind themselves why they're taking care of themselves. As Doctor Snider said, it's important to continue to take precautions and one of the difficulties they might encounter is that not all students are going to have those same concerns, and so they might be ostracized and have some worries about being singled out or being seen as being different… so it's important to plan ahead. Plan how you're going to enter back into school, finding other students who take similar precautions as you do.

“Other students are less concerned about the virus and more focused on their anxiety about the loss of normality, a loss of what they typically experience, whether they're a freshman or they're an upperclassman, and they're really focused on their angst about things just not being the same as they were. And those students need to be thinking about, again, making plans on how they can be safe but at the same time, maintain some degree of normalcy. Socializing with your friends. Campuses are designed and built as being communities - close-knit, tight communities - and so it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a very difficult challenge for students to have some semblance of normalcy during this time.”

What advice do you have for parents worried about their children going to college during a pandemic?

Gutterman: “For the parents, I think it's important to first of all listen before you impart your anxiety and concerns to your children or young adults. Hear from them. What are their concerns or their anxieties? Have an understanding of where they're coming from first and foremost…

“If you have concerns and you want to be able to talk to them about it - that's important to do, but don't impose your anxiety on them. You want to give them some sense of confidence, that you have faith that they'll make good decisions. But talk about what it means to make good decisions. Help them plan this out a little bit. There are things you can anticipate that they may not be able to anticipate that they'll be facing.

“So work with them, keep the open dialogue going, making sure that there's going to be good communication back and forth. That will help ease the parents' angst if they know that their young adults, as they launch off, will call them with concerns…

“It’s also important that both parents and students know that almost all schools have counseling centers. Make sure you’re aware of how to access those counseling centers, because they do have staff who will be there available to talk with students and parents if they're having any difficulties at all.”

If students start to feel like they may have been exposed to this virus, what are the steps that they need to take?

Snider: “I’m mentioning what Doctor Gutterman mentioned – it's good to know what your student health center’s clinic is, and also to know that if you're starting to have symptoms, it is best to stay in your dorm room and contact [student health services] to make an appointment so that they can anticipate you coming in for your evaluation of your symptoms. I know a lot of the universities have protocols in place to ensure that the student will get evaluated and get tested.

“And then a lot of the universities are also creating spaces where if a student needs to be quarantined from the rest of their hall mates or their suite mates, that they get placed in a different room so that it can ensure that they are not potentially exposing further students to COVID-19. And also, the universities are really working hard on anticipating how to do contact tracing and ensuring that they can test and also identify other people that may have been exposed to students.”

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