On Campus With COVID

October 26, 2020

On Campus With COVID

September check-in. Summer has come to a close, and we are back to school amid a global pandemic. How is the United States managing this transition?

Simply put, with mixed emotions about returning to campus for this fall semester. Many universities and colleges addressed the challenge as the nation watches under a microscope. Taking on different approaches to in-person vs. online education and how to manage outbreaks on campus during the pandemic has caused controversy and a question of sustainability. Some colleges and universities are having higher success rates than others leaving many wondering, how and why?

Location and campus size are the first factors to consider when measuring students' in-person sustainability and managing the virus. Small campuses in rural areas have had higher success rates than larger universities in cities due to proximity and population density. It is a “no brainer” that a crowded city is more likely to have a higher infection rate based on social behavior and proximity than a less populated, rural community based on the CDC's data since March when the pandemic took flight. Not only have smaller student bodies been more successful based on location (less proximity to a big city reduces risk) but they have the ability to manage a concentrated population size with more accurate and aggressive COVID testing and tracing strategies. In other words, the smaller the population scale, the easier it is to track behaviors in outbreaks to contain the virus and give students the proper COVID health and wellness treatment if and when necessary. But that isn’t the only factor at play. Culture of the campus, proactive testing and tracing, and addressing the need for students to socialize proactively but safely seem to also have a role.

Larger universities and college towns located in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota have been the source of some of the most significant surges in new cases. As mentioned above, population density has been the most significant contributing factor to managing the virus in the past six months. When universities and colleges reopen without substantive testing and tracing strategies, they are ultimately set up for failure. With a lack of sustainable tracking and tracing strategies, these universities have had little to no success rate with their approach, becoming a liability to the surrounding community and student body as a whole of being at risk for COVID infection. Instead, their approach to combating and managing the virus holds students accountable with steep disciplinary measures that tend to clash with the traditional party college lifestyle and culture students there are accustomed to, resulting in little to no success in managing outbreaks. One small college, Wesleyan in Connecticut, has had significant success by recognizing the need for students to socialize and planning healthy and safe ways for them to do so rather than trying to prevent socializing and failing as has been the experience of many other colleges. Wesleyan historically has a reputation for being less of a “party” school so this strategy has worked well for them against COVID while supporting the social needs of students to some extent.

Given the circumstances, how highly contagious COVID is, and many college students' social behavior/lifestyle, the chance of infection is high. What can you do to be proactive in this unique situation or if you test positive for the virus?

1. Make sure to check-in with the university’s president to ensure that the university has an isolation and care plan for students who become positive even if they move to online education.

2. If tested positive, DO NOT return home and spread the virus to your family that is likely to be multigenerational. Connect with your family to find an alternative solution if your college does not offer one.

3. Take the proper precautions, notify your university health center, quarantine for 14 days before returning home, or entering back into the real world to reduce the likelihood of virus spread to new communities.

4. Wear a Mask, and wash it regularly!

Last but not least, the world is going through a pandemic marking a unique time in history that was not anticipated by much of the population. COVID has made it incredibly challenging to abandon lifestyles, plans, and more to adapt to a drastically different version of what your “normal” day-to-day semester would look like. It is interfering with the “college dream” in ways that no one could have anticipated. Moreover, young adult thinking and brain processing is not predisposed to sustaining thoughts about being cautious. It is the time of their lives for socializing, learning, and expanding horizons, which often works best by mingling with others and learning in groups, something that is challenging to do safely in the world of this pandemic. One thing has been made clear: no one is invincible to the virus. Young adults are less likely to show symptoms but we are all vulnerable in one way or another. Prioritizing your health is key, get to know the COVID facts, learn how to protect yourself and what to do if you are sick. Students may want to consider alternatives to on-campus education like virtual or remote learning. Some students are taking a gap year or going to community colleges this year as an alternative, putting off the “on-campus” experience until the pandemic has passed. This will potentially put them out of harm’s way as the world figures out the next steps to managing the virus! Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are predicting an uptick in COVID activity as fall and winter and the need to “hunker down” so continued vigilance is critical especially as activities move back indoors.

Stay safe and healthy!

Sending you calm & healthy wishes.

- Lee

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