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College Students Coming Home for Thanksgiving? Let's Talk About It

Published in Infectious Diseases, For the Health of It Author: Kimberly Tjaden,MD

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is strongly encouraging that college students stay on campus for Thanksgiving this year as community spread of COVID-19 surges across the state and across the nation.

MDH offers different options for college students such as remaining on campus and have a virtual Thanksgiving with your family. Or plan a dinner with the people who live with you, either roommates or dormmates. Check with your university on how they might be accommodating students who will need to stay on campus.

MDH discourages travel over Thanksgiving break, especially for college students who plan to return back to school after the break.

Before you make a decision, talk with your college student about other options. Some conversation topics could include:

  • We feel nervous about you coming home in case you may be a carrier of the coronavirus. Many spread the virus before knowing they have it.
  • Since you will be returning to campus after Thanksgiving, how would you feel about staying there for the holiday?
  • We’d love to send you some money for a special dinner or a small gift, so it can feel like home. Remember that pumpkin recipe your grandma makes every year? We’ll send you the ingredients so you can try making it yourself.

If your college student needs to come home, have an open and honest conversation with them about the power of their choices before they return home. Ask them to restrict contacts for at least a week before coming home and to not participate in social activities — lay low before you go.

Many universities offer free testing on campus for students. However, keep in mind that a test is just a snapshot in time. It is possible that a student who tests negative could develop the virus or pick up the virus on the way home if traveling by air, bus or carpooling.

Parents also need to avoid unnecessary gatherings in preparation for their college kids coming home. Most COVID-19 spread is coming from social gatherings. If you get sick, it will not be a nice homecoming.

If they do come home and were not able to isolate before returning home, consider isolating upon arrival to prevent asymptomatic spread to family members. This doesn’t mean being all alone, but you could prepare some their favorite foods, leave a nice candle in their room, and let them rest and rejuvenate. Remember: they have had a lot of stress because of COVID. Home is where they can decompress and feel safe.

If isolation wasn’t possible before returning home, college students and family members should wear masks when visiting and cooking. Also, avoid gathering with friends — it’s been months since you’ve seen your high school friends and you don’t know what their exposure might be. Keep it safe and stay home.

As for returning to school after Thanksgiving, remember that higher education institutions have different requirements — some states could require quarantine after travel, so plan appropriately.

It is a hard decision to make, whether the risk is worth it to have college students come home. They might be homesick and excited to see family and friends. But in order to keep our family members and our community safe from further spread of the coronavirus, making good choices about getting together could mean more holidays together in the future.