As colleges and universities around the country prepare for students to return to campus in the midst of a pandemic, what can parents do to help their children stay safe?
“College is going to be particularly challenging,” says UNC Health pediatrician Elizabeth Blyth, MD. “College students live together in close quarters, they eat together and they socialize throughout the week.”
UNC Health experts offer these six tips to help college students minimize the risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
1. Adhere to safety precautions.
Many colleges have been working since the COVID-19 outbreak began to put safety measures in place that would allow students to have an in-person college experience this fall. These measures include:
- Creating areas in classrooms, dining halls and living spaces that enable students to stay 6 to 10 feet apart
- Purchasing new technology so that more classes can use online components, minimizing the number of students in class physically at one time
- Implementing guidelines for physical distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene
- Establishing isolation plans should a student test positive for the virus
Encourage your child to adhere to the institution’s safety measures and to carry hand sanitizer at all times.
2. Maximize time outdoors.
Students should spend as much time as possible outdoors when weather permits. Outdoor activities are preferable to indoor ones because fresh air dilutes the virus.
“Students should study and eat outdoors as much as they can and keep their windows open when they are in their dorm rooms,” Dr. Blyth says.
3. Wear a mask.
Your student should plan to wear a mask anytime he or she cannot be at least 6 feet apart from others. Wearing cloth face masks and coverings in public settings is important because it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Find masks that are comfortable, and make sure your child knows to regularly wash them. Provide your student with four or five cloth masks so that one is always available. He or she needs to be sure to wash each mask at least once a week.
You can wash a cloth mask in the washing machine and dry it in the dryer just like any other clothing item.
4. Regularly clean and disinfect dorm rooms.
A good rule of thumb is to assume that any surface could be contaminated with germs, says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention. If your child is not used to cleaning or disinfecting at home, spend some time this summer teaching him or her.
“Make sure they understand the principles behind disinfection so when they’re in school, they can think about that,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “Disinfection is very effective against coronaviruses.”
Students should make it a habit to regularly clean doorknobs, cabinet handles, sink faucets and light switches with a disinfectant. Tell them not to forget other high-touch areas such as tables, chairs, desks, phones, keyboards, and TV and gaming controls.
5. Limit or avoid alcohol.
Alcohol weakens the immune system and makes social distancing more difficult, Dr. Blyth says. In addition, the World Health Organization warns that heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of respiratory failure, one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
“They should really watch the amount of alcohol they drink,” Dr. Blyth says.
6. Alert college healthcare providers, a dorm adviser or a professor if ill.
While there is a lot of pressure—especially among college students—not to miss out on fun or get behind in class, it is imperative that your child tell a trusted adult if he or she feels ill.
“It is important that they hear this message over and over again before they leave for college,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.
Make sure your child knows the symptoms of COVID-19, which can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches and a loss of taste or smell.
For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.