Back-to-school shopping usually means notebooks, binders, backpacks and computers. During the coronavirus pandemic, parents and students are adding masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to their lists.
Returning to the classroom requires the same back-to-school list as well as research into state regulations, updates on college safety protocols and a good amount of self-awareness. Why? More people equals more risk. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), “the high touch, highly interactive, mobile, densely populated living and learning environment typical of most campuses is the exemplar of a congregate setting with multiple risk factors for ready transmission of COVID-19.”
Think of all the locations available to students on campus: classrooms, libraries, study spaces, labs, art studios, dormitories, dining halls, bookstores, rec centers, student unions, gyms, laundry rooms, lecture halls and computer labs.
Each location is an educational setting and a COVID-19 transmission risk. It’s no wonder parents are concerned sending their children out into a coronavirus world, perhaps 100 or more miles away in a community with different safety standards or risks.
College ResponseCommunities surrounding colleges are also nervous about the returning influx of students and the possible increase in transmission rates and the potential burden on the local health care system. Many colleges and universities have built policies adhering to state rules. For example, the state of Minnesota currently does not permit social gatherings, not associated with a class or structured event, with more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors and the University of Minnesota agrees.
College administrators have rolled out unique return to campus initiatives for educating incoming students, including Facebook campaigns asking for photos of mask-wearing students. The University of South Carolina is asking students for a signed pledge at the University of South Carolina to follow public health guidelines to keep the campus safe.
An online summer course at Manhattanville College in New York provided credit to students who wanted to learn about the pandemic from a “variety of approaches, explaining not just the science of the disease, but the history of pandemics and the potential economic and societal impacts of COVID-19.”
Extra Safety ConsiderationsMandatory masks, social distancing protocols and a cleaning and disinfecting schedule are all standard parts of guidelines developed by the ACHA and included in every college’s reopening plan.
These safety measures are also what Global Rescue experts recommend. In addition, Global Rescue has compiled a list of back-to-school coronavirus safety tips, broken down by campus location, for parents and students.
“If you’re heading to campus, or if you’re a parent of a college-bound student, you’ll want a safety checklist to make certain the on-campus pandemic do’s and don’ts are in place, understood, and rigorously implemented,” said Dan Stretch, operations manager at Global Rescue.
Cafeteria/Dining HallIn addition to floor markers and appropriately spaced tables and chairs, dining halls and eating areas will have new rules, such as a reservation system to limit the number of students in a facility at a time or an access controls system where a patron is only allowed to enter when another leaves. Additional things you can do to reduce the risk of transmission:
- Select a grab-and-go option, something prepackaged you can eat after you wash your hands and/or remove your mask in a less risky environment
- Choose disposable utensils, or utensils washed with soap and hot water
- Wipe down the seating area, chair and table, with disinfecting wipes
- Find a less-crowded table or area to eat
- Wash your hands after eating
Classroom/Lecture HallCheck your health status before you sit in the classroom or lecture hall. If your campus health service doesn’t have a readily available symptom checklist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers one online. If you are not feeling well, log in virtually.
- Maintain six-foot distancing by staggering your seat and/or row around others
- Wear a mask
- Wipe down seating area, desk and chair, with disinfecting wipes
- Don’t share books, electronic devices, pens or any other object difficult to clean or disinfect
- If you need to share supplies, such as lab equipment or computers, clean and disinfect before use
- Attend the classes that cannot be measured or achieved virtually, such as dance, theater, performing arts, laboratory or clinical experiences, according to the ACHA. The rest can be completed virtually
Study GroupStudy groups help students expand on classroom learning, filling in the gaps of classroom notes and offering new perspectives on the material to break the monotony of reading the material. But any large group increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
To keep yourself safe:
- If possible, use video conferencing (i.e., Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime) for study groups.
- Maintain social distancing
- Wear a mask
- Eat or drink after the study group so you don’t have to remove your mask
- Limit the group size
- Limit meeting time to under an hour
- Wipe down your desk and chair, before and after group
- Or, better yet, hold the study session outdoors
Shared Dorm Room or BathroomMany colleges and universities have planned housing to limit capacity or ensure students have private rooms. If your student is sharing a space — bedroom or bathroom — check residence hall policies for protocols and perhaps set up a few of your own:
- Leave shoes in the hallway on a designated mat or floor area
- Hang up masks as you enter the room, or throw directly into the laundry basket
- Avoid resting a personal item, like a toothbrush or a fork, on a shared surface like a sink
- Agree to wipe down door knobs, light switches or any common areas after use
- Try to keep windows open if weather and temperature allow
- Work with your roommate to limit guests and ensure visitors follow safety protocols
Travel HomeOnce students are on campus, they may be on campus for a while — perhaps until Thanksgiving break. When it comes time to travel home, typical options include car, airplane, train or bus. Each has its own risk factors and you can’t always be sure your fellow travelers have been using the appropriate precautions.
When traveling by car, if possible:
- Ask a family member to pick you up
- Ask a likeminded classmate, someone who has been following coronavirus safety measures, for a ride
- Keep the car windows down (if possible), wear a mask, disinfect high-touch surfaces
- Plan for limited stops, perhaps gas and restroom only
- Check Global Rescue’s coronavirus report for a list of state mandates on mask wearing/social distancing
- Sign up for a travel health services membership. You’ll be able to research your route and see if it coincides with coronavirus hot spots, check for open rest areas and toll roads and ask for assistance during a medical emergency
Global Rescue travel services memberships offer updates on restrictions, quarantines and hotspots, as well as access to experts who can answer coronavirus related questions and provide immediate information regarding appropriate nearby health care facilities. Global Rescue student travel memberships are annual memberships available to full-time students under the age of 35.