Guidance is out on getting students home safely for the holidays

Sorry. I’ve been a bit naughty here. We do not yet have anything from any of the four UK governments on the “Christmas issue”.

But we are now less than a month away from Thanksgiving in the US (Thursday 26 November), so while we wait for the UK plan I thought I’d mooch about and see how US universities are handling a major temporary migration of students, fanning out around the country to gather around a table of turkey, to see if we might learn any lessons.

Mass asymptomatic testing has been mooted in the UK – and earlier this month the White House Coronavirus Task Force specifically recommended that Missouri, a state with rising counts of Covid-19 cases, “test all university students before dismissing them for Thanksgiving”. But not all universities can afford it. An analysis by NPR found that more than two-thirds of universities running face to face teaching either had no clear testing plan or were testing only students who are at risk. The analysis was based on data compiled from more than 1,400 colleges by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College.

Yesterday the American College Health Association tried to find a way through the problem by publishing a briefing on “considerations for institutions of higher education as students return home”, written with the “understanding” that not all institutions “will have the resources to implement everything” in the document – a situation which reflects our own increasingly diverse higher education system.

It’s important to note that some colleges and universities have decided to end their “on-campus” experience for the year at Thanksgiving, with a stated intent to let students return home until January – whereas others have resolved to bring students straight back for a few weeks in December. There’s also considerable diversity over (stated) January plans.

For those universities intending to have students back in December, the recommendation is that they actively discourage students from traveling over the Thanksgiving break and encourage students to instead have a “virtual Thanksgiving” event with family members. Here institutions are advised to provide on-campus meals and encourage staying in accommodation for what the briefing calls “Friendsgiving.” Plans should include physically distanced dining arrangements in well-ventilated or outdoor spaces with access to masks and hand sanitizer.

If that all sounds unlikely, there aren’t many surprises in the alternative:

For students who choose to go home and return to campus, develop quarantine and testing protocols”

We also get:

  • Institutions should be prepared to provide housing and other services for students who students are sick or have been exposed and may have to delay travel home.
  • If students are in isolation or quarantine, their departure from campus should be delayed until they have completed the quarantine or isolation period.
  • Health services should expect an increase in requests from students for testing prior to their exit from campus.
  • Students are encouraged to adopt a “know before you go” approach prior to travel
  • For students who remain on campus in isolation or quarantine, college health services need to create a plan for checking in on these students regularly and ensuring their well-being and access to necessities.

There’s some specific advice for students on their arrival home – and again no surprises here, the most cautious approach upon arrival home “is to quarantine for the first 14 days after arrival” which it says is especially important if there are “vulnerable, higher risk individuals living in the home and/or there is high prevalence on the campus or in the local community surrounding the campus prior to leaving for home”.

And there’s plenty in the document about “bolstering health education” to prevent exporting Covid-19 back to students’ home communities which is to include students being encouraged to review data on the prevalence of Covid on their campus, in the local community, and in their final destination – and to to consider their own physical and mental health and assess their ability to leave the campus.

They’re also encouraged to get an influenza vaccination, and crucially to minimize risk of exposure and infection during the weeks leading to departure from campus – including reducing the number of people with whom they have close contact prior to the trip, which is a nicer way of mooting the sort of “student lockdown” we’ve seen proposed for the final two weeks of term here in the UK.

Would all of that work in the UK? Who knows – but it’s unlikely if the (entirely unscientific) evidence in this piece in the Tab is right. “Students are forgoing the Government advice and creating rules of their own”, it says:

Students don’t care so much about knowing whether or not they have it – to them, it’s Schrodinger’s Covid. What they care about more is that no one else knows.”

Tizzie, an Edinburgh student, told The Tab:

It’s sort of like ‘don’t see, don’t tell’ in halls right now. Like an undercurrent of this kinda wink wink attitude. It’s really common [not to get tested], everyone just avoids it. It’s because at the beginning the support measures were absolutely crap for students self-isolating, so everyone disregarded using them. It’s like, if no one knew then they didn’t have to isolate.”

One response to “Guidance is out on getting students home safely for the holidays

  1. Pretty well covers what we’re seeing, don’t get tested and don’t report. Whats making life interesting is the number of prospective students and their parents visiting the Uni, half-term boredom, or invited idiocy?

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