Adjusting to life during the pandemic has not been easy, particularly for students who have continued their education away from home. Despite the best efforts of universities and colleges to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on campus, infections have risen markedly since the start of the fall semester.
Now, as this semester draws to a close and students prepare to leave for Thanksgiving, there are concerns that asymptomatic or presymptomatic students may be a vehicle of transmission to their loved ones back home.
This worry is not unfounded, as students are in the age group that makes up most new cases in the US. The holiday season threatens to seed new disease clusters among friends, siblings, and, most alarmingly, parents and grandparents who are much more vulnerable to the virus. The impending uptick in seasonal influenza cases further exacerbates this risk.
To make matters worse, COVID-19 cannot be reliably detected in the first five days after infection. The majority of infections are only detectable eight days after exposure.
To ensure that asymptomatic students do not bring the virus back home, online medical news service Medpage Today has released a four-step evidence-based plan for students to safely travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This plan will help students drastically reduce the risk of getting infected before embarking on their trip home.
Four-Step Travel Plan
Step 1: Self-Sequestration
The first step encourages students to fully convert to online learning and self-isolate starting eight days before they plan to travel.
During this time, you should avoid bars, restaurants, and other crowded places. Wear a mask whenever you leave your room or dorm. Maintain social distancing and wash hands frequently. Taking these steps decreases the risk of exposure to the virus immediately before going home.
Step 2: Pre-Travel Testing
Two to three days before travel, all students are advised to get a COVID-19 test. Rapid antigen testing is discouraged since it has not been thoroughly evaluated in real-world research trials. Instead, you should ask for a molecular test for viral RNA using an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) on a nasal, nasopharyngeal, or saliva sample.
If your test comes back positive, self-quarantine at college and don’t travel home. Reschedule your visit for a later time.
Step 3: Travel Home
If results come back negative, students can start preparing for their travel according to CDC guidance.
While traveling, you should wear masks indoors and on planes, trains, buses, and other enclosed vehicles. Where possible, go for a disposable surgical mask or a cloth mask with at least two layers and eye protection.
Clean your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand sanitizer and use antibacterial wipes to sanitize objects used while traveling, such as seats, tray tables, and armrests.
Step 4: At Home
Upon arrival at your destination, you should avoid large crowds, practice strict hygiene, and be retested in case you develop any symptoms or are notified you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
It’s better to host outdoor activities than indoor activities. In addition to this, you should:
- Avoid buffets and salad bars.
- Use single-use options or make one person responsible for serving shareable items such as dressings, plates, and condiments.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving, and eating food.
- Avoid physical touch. Instead, find alternatives for hugs and kisses when reuniting with loved ones.
If you develop symptoms, isolate yourself from friends and family and get retested.
While a vaccine for the coronavirus is still in the works, it’s up to us to find ways to avoid it as we go about our day to day lives — not just for our own safety, but for those we love as well.