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Plan for a Safe Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away. Families, of course, want to be together. But college students, who have watched the virus rip through universities before radiating off campus, may pose a significant risk to their loved ones.

As our colleague Shawn Hubler reports, many universities have planned to end in-person classes before the holiday and require students to finish the term remotely, partly to avoid an expected wave of cold-weather infections.

We’ve decide to talk about Thanksgiving now, just over two weeks before the actual holiday, to give you a framework to plan with your family. We also wanted to give you a sense of what other students are feeling.

To reduce the risk of students carrying the coronavirus home for the holidays, some colleges and universities are requiring students to test negative for the virus before they can leave campus.

New York State’s university system will require “all students using on-campus facilities in any capacity” — about 140,000 students in all — to test negative for the virus within 10 days of their departure, and to quarantine according to county health rules if they test positive.

But many schools — including Pennsylvania State University and Indiana University — are not making the testing mandatory for all students.

In Massachusetts, where cases have been surging, Boston University has asked students not to leave campus until Dec. 10, when classes end. “We are saying, ‘Stay here,’ plain and simple,” said Kenneth Elmore, the associate provost and dean of students.

Epidemiologists recommend that travelers isolate themselves before traveling for at least a week and receive one or more negative coronavirus tests within three days of departure. Upon arrival, travelers should again quarantine until receiving one or more negative test results over three days.

Those who do not test should quarantine for 14 days before and after traveling.

Stella Tallmon, 18, will be heading home to Alaska all the way from Kenyon College in Ohio.

Although she plans to wear an N-95 mask and face shield for the whole 18-hour journey, she’s still worried.

“I honestly won’t be surprised if I get the virus during my travel,” she said. Once she arrives, she plans to quarantine for at least five days.

“My worst fear is coming home and getting the virus while traveling,” said Maximilian King, 21, a student at McGill University in Montreal who plans to quarantine for two weeks.

If you have to fly, take precautions on the plane and in the airport. If you’re able to drive, most experts agre that a car will be safer than public transportation.

Either way, start planning your travel now. And if you can, consider heading home a week early to split up your quarantine.

An infection can take up to 14 days to show itself, so it’s not enough to test negative at school and then travel home, intending to join a family celebration a day or two later.

“Their arrival on Wednesday with plans to see grandma on Thursday could pose a huge risk,” said David Rubin, a pediatrician and public health expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is going to be a strange year, even if you do get together with family in person. Talk through your family’s comfort level, and ask each individual how they stand. The most cautious person may get to set the agenda.

“My family and I have very different comfort levels,” said Maddi Hundley, 19, a student at the University of Utah. “Case numbers are higher per capita where I attend school than at home, so the combination of their current lifestyle combined with the high cases numbers where I live makes me nervous.”

When you are together, plan some way to give thanks on purpose. That might be over Zoom or email if you’re not together. But even if hugging is a no-go, we still need to be together somehow this year.

Even in the best of times, family tensions tend to flare over Thanksgiving. If that happens, remember that none of this is your fault, nor is it your family’s fault. So carve the turkey (or the tofurkey!) and find togetherness however you can.

This weekend, the University of Notre Dame beat Clemson University at a highly anticipated football game. Fans promptly stormed the field.

Still, the team mostly cleared the field after the victory. That was thanks to advance planning from Notre Dame’s coach, Brian Kelly. “I just want you to know,” he told his team, “When we win this thing, the fans are going to storm the field.”

  • Cases are rising at Arizona State University, but university officials said around half of on-campus students have not complied with random testing.

  • A good read: After Harvard’s president Lawrence S. Bacow tested positive, he said he and his wife had been “completely isolated in the house.” In fact, The Harvard Crimson reported, two university custodians had continued to clean their home for four hours, twice a week, well after the university shut down in March.

Michelle Hainer wrote an honest, frustrated essay about the fatigue of parenting a remote-learner. She watches her kids snark to teachers and knows their peers see every room in their house. She watches her kids look for pencils, and knows her parenting style is on full display.

“Before the coronavirus came into our collective lives, I was largely unaware of what my kids and their teachers did in school all day — and vice versa,” she wrote. “But now, those boundaries have become a thing of our pre-pandemic past.”

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