CDC Says College Students Going Home For Thanksgiving Raise Risks

Some universities fear returning students could bring back COVID to campus.
Posted at 4:11 PM, Nov 19, 2020

After months away from home, Thanksgiving break is the reprieve, when students get to spend time with their families, reconnect. But the surge in COVID-19 cases has health officials concerned. 

Thursday, the CDC updated its guidelines, with its strongest warning yet, avoid travel for Thanksgiving, however for those students who do head home...

“Be careful when you're traveling, make sure you're wearing your face mask. When you're traveling make sure you're being conscious of hand hygiene. Ideally, try to quarantine, self-quarantine before the gathering and encourage other people to do the same,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Newsy.  

Schools like Indiana University are trying to get ahead of the virus by ramping up testing.  

“We have a symptomatic testing operation. But we are also offering sort of a voluntary mitigation testing for those people who don't have symptoms who want to know their COVID status before they travel home,” explained  Dr. Erika Cheng of the Indiana University COVID-19 Medical Response Team.

IU students won’t return to campus until February, a growing trend for universities across the country.

“We're trying to quiet things down in town so that people don't get sick between the time they take the test and the time they go home,” Kevin O'Kelley, chair of the University of South Dakota COVID-19 Task Force told Newsy. 

In South Dakota, where COVID-19 hospitalizations have sharply risen, officials from the University of South Dakota launched the Know Before You Go Program, a combination of testing and social distancing before the break. 

“We want students who are positive to stay here, stay in Vermillion, don't take that positive COVID-19 to your hometown,” said O'Kelley. 

Surgeon General Adams tells Newsy he supports the use of tests, but they don’t eliminate the risk. 

“A test today is a test today. You could test negative today and be positive tomorrow. So it doesn't mean that you are absolutely free from having to practice some of these safety measures. It just means that you're not at that moment actively spreading infection,” Adams warned.  

Infectious disease experts say that’s particularly important for students from minority communities, who have been hardest hit by the virus.  

“I cannot in good conscience come before you and tout that [testing] ... [is] the way forward when it's not a universal strategy. What most people can do, though, is mask. What everyone can do, though, is wash their hands,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician with the Washington University School of Medicine. 

One thing to note, many universities are considering requiring a COVID test either when students return to campus or in some cases before they are even allowed to return to campus. Amber Strong, Newsy, Northern, Virginia.