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College Students: Get Ready To Adapt

How you can do your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19

As colleges, universities and technical schools throughout the country start fall classes, and many students return to campus, new challenges are emerging amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Many institutions are opting for all virtual classes; others plan to offer a hybrid combination of in-person and online classes, with students choosing which option works best for them. Either way, students should be ready to adapt to a new style of learning and take their safety seriously.

Deciding Between In-Person vs. Virtual Learning

“The first decision college students will have to make is which option best suits them,” said Kelli Heindel, MD, FAAFP, and Medical Director of Primary Care. “That decision should take into consideration their personal health status – are they immune compromised or do they have a chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma. Then they need to consider the health status of family and friends with whom they’ll interact whenever they return home, the people they could possibly expose to COVID-19.”

Dr. Heindel also noted that colleges might change their operations throughout the school year, depending on the level of COVID-19 activity.

“That situation brings out a couple of very important points for students (and parents) at all levels for this coming school year,” said Dr. Heindel. “Being adaptable is going to be paramount, and maintaining one’s mental health is equally as important as staying physically healthy.”

Taking Basic Precautions & Staying In-the-Know

If a student chooses to attend in-person classes, it will be vital that they practice basic coronavirus precautions, including:

  • Wearing a mask whenever in a public setting – in the dorm, in class, and in social settings.
  • Practicing social distancing, remaining at least six feet away from anyone they don’t live with.
  • Avoiding unnecessary physical touching.
  • Washing hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-percent alcohol.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting common surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches keyboards, cell phones, toilets and faucets regularly.
  • Avoiding people who are sick.
  • Staying away from others when sick.

In fact, many schools in the University of Wisconsin System are asking students to sign pledges acknowledging they will do their part to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on campus.

Beyond practicing COVID-19 precautions, Dr. Heindel said all students should be aware of how their school is going to communicate COVID-19 information and stayed tuned to such outlets and announcements. Next, students should monitor their health on a daily basis and know where their Student Health Center is and how they should contact that Center if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or learn they have been exposed to the virus.

Implementing Additional Layers of Protection

“We know not all students will observe proper coronavirus precautions,” Dr. Heindel explained. “That will be problematic, especially for students who are seriously concerned about contracting the virus. Those concerned students would be wise to seek out other students who are following the precautions and create a ‘quarantine pod’ so they have people they can feel safer socializing with.”

For those attending classes in person, Dr. Heindel offered a number of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Avoid classes with larger numbers of students; opt for an online class.
  • When leaving for class, put on a facemask, and carry tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in your backpack.
  • Wipe down desks with disinfectant wipes.
  • Skip seats or rows to create physical distance between other students.
  • Avoid placing personal items (e.g., cell phone) on the desk.

Those living on campus or in off-campus housing should also:

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect the dorm room/apartment before moving in.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Avoid sharing dishes, drinking glasses, cups, or eating utensils.
  • Handle non-disposable food service items with gloves and wash with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher after each use.
  • Avoid sharing food or drinks with other people.
  • Avoid buffets and self-serve stations. Pick up grab-and-go options, if offered.
  • Keep dirty laundry separate from the laundry of other residents. Wear gloves when using joint laundry facilities. Clean and disinfect common surfaces such as knobs on the washer/dryer, door handles.
  • Avoid placing toothbrushes directly on counter surfaces and use totes for personal items so they do not touch the bathroom countertop.

“College life is going to be distinctly different until the COVID-19 virus is better controlled,” Dr. Heindel said. “Students need to follow all the recommended virus prevention precautions and be aware of the level of COVID-19 activity on campus to protect themselves and others. At the same time, college should be a time of exploration and expansion of one’s experiences. We wish all students a successful and healthy year and stand ready to help provide physical, mental and emotional assistance to those who need care.”