How to Welcome Students Home
We are all excited to welcome our students home from college or boarding school. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, doing so safely requires some extra effort. There are three possibilities for doing this safely.
SITUATION 1: Some schools are working to make it easy for students to quarantine and test before traveling home or to test as soon as they arrive. As long as you feel your student has been careful and they take private transportation and do not stop along the way, you can be reasonably assured that your student is COVID-free. Welcome them home with open arms.
SITUATION 2: If your student's school is not offering students the ability to quarantine in advance of returning home, you've got a significant challenge ahead: enabling your college student to quarantine at home.
You have likely not seen your kid in months, greet them as enthusiastically as you can from a distance. Then buckle down for a minimum 7-day separation. This means that you and your student should not share spaces indoors. You should eat separately and use separate bathrooms. If you must be in the same area, do so for as short a time as possible, stay 6 feet apart, open windows, and wear masks. Clean common spaces with bleach or alcohol wipes daily.
As long as no one has symptoms, your student can get a COVID test after 7 days of quarantine. They need to continue to quarantine until their results are known. When the test is negative, they can rejoin the family.
During the student's quarantine, the family can continue to go to work and make essential shopping trips; although, family members should limit other social interactions during this time. Of course, if symptoms arise from any family member, that person should isolate.
SITUATION 3: The student can rejoin the family immediately on the condition that the entire household quarantines for at least 7 days, plus the time it takes to get a negative test result. This is possible only if (a) you're reasonably assured your student is negative and (b) members of the family can work from home and stock up on groceries in advance.
The introduction of a vaccine, expected late this year and early next year, will hopefully make this strange welcome-home experience necessary only once or twice.
Trey Dobson, MD, is the chief medical officer of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.