Schools and the Thanksgiving COVID-19 Threat: Fauci’s proper – Vacation Plans Might Should Change
By Walter Thomas Casey II, Texas A&M University-Texarkana; Marcia G. Ory from Texas A&M University and Rebecca SB Fischer from Texas A&M University
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, warned this week that families may have to change their Thanksgiving plans to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield raised similar concerns in a call to governors.
There has been an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases in most states in the past few weeks, and we’ve seen spikes in cases particularly in university towns. Colder weather means there is more activity indoors where the virus can circulate. And people who have been socially isolated for months feel desperate for connection.
As the holidays draw near, an important question is what impact sending college students out for Thanksgiving will have on their home communities.
Texas A&M University’s Public Health Response Team, of which the three of us are a part, has been documenting COVID-19 trends in Texas for six months, forecasting the spread of disease and the impact on hospitals. With the number of new cases rising, we were concerned about what the holidays would bring.
Dual hot spots
In Texas, the most densely populated counties have higher rates of documented SARS-CoV-2 infections, and they contain a large proportion of state colleges and universities. The overlap of these characteristics poses challenges for managing COVID-19.
Many of these districts were already COVID-19 hotspots before students returned for the fall semester. In crowded communities, the likelihood of accidental exposure to someone with COVID-19 is much less random and much safer.
The reopening of campus brought with it an age group known to harbor the virus, but often with mild or no symptoms. This made it easier for the virus to spread covertly. Nationwide, many universities reported spikes in cases shortly after students returned in the fall, and some had to abandon face-to-face classes and switch back to online learning when those cases got out of hand.
Soon, these students will be returning to their families across the country for the holidays with the option of a souvenir that no one wants – COVID-19.
reason to worry
It’s not just activities on campus that are of concern. It’s also what students do when they’re not in class, including going to bars and attending off-campus parties.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott recently eased minimum bar restrictions so that they can be opened at 50% capacity. This likely means that bars that scrub because they are treated differently from other places where people gather in groups are rare to find. In young adults, the likelihood that social distancing, wearing masks, and other precautions won’t remain vigilant is already worrying. Such risky behaviors would exacerbate the risk factors and allow additional opportunities for the virus to spread.
We hypothesize factors such as college drinking, peer pressure, and social pressure to act like everything is normal, as well as seasonal changes that make outdoor eating and drinking less feasible, increase the likelihood of exposure to the coronavirus and a subsequent infection.
When these young adults return home, some are likely to show signs of mild illness. Some may not have any noticeable symptoms, but are still contagious. You could introduce the virus to communities that have had few infections so far and to friends and family members, including vulnerable parents and grandparents, who they are dying to reconnect with.
While we’ve examined the dynamics of the spread of COVID-19 specifically in Texas, many other states with large college populations are facing the same combination of factors, with potentially infectious young adults going home. It is important to understand the risks. Nationwide, more than 215,000 people who had received COVID-19 had died by mid-October.
What can you do now?
First, university and city officials can prepare for these impending risks. Efforts to contain and contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 on campus and in the surrounding communities remain important.
Some locations plan to end the semester on Thanksgiving break or switch to online classes in the past few weeks to avoid additional trips that could spread the virus. Others have implemented rigorous testing and contact tracking programs to stop the spread.
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Second, everyone must take public health prevention practices of COVID-19 seriously. This means that large gatherings – and even smaller ones when new people are involved – avoid wearing face masks and following recommended guidelines for physical distancing. When visiting bars or restaurants, be aware of how well customers and businesses are taking precautions.
Third, everyone should realize that the upcoming holiday season will be different from previous years. Students whose semester ends in December should avoid traveling until the end of the year – or, if they travel earlier, do so safely. One strategy is to get tested before traveling home and before returning. When you can’t visit your grandparents and other family members in person, you can find remote ways to keep connecting, such as going back to school. B. Telephone calls or video chats.
We wish everyone a good and safe Christmas season. In protecting yourself and others, you need to understand the risks and take proactive steps to make the family vacation even more enjoyable.
Walter Thomas Casey II, Associate Professor of Political Science, Texas A&M University-Texarkana; Marcia G. Ory, Regent and Distinguished Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety at Texas A&M University, and Rebecca SB Fischer, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Texas A&M University
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.