Students avoid bringing COVID-19 home for the holidays

By Sammi St. Leger

While leaving college to go home for Thanksgiving can be a relaxing experience, during a pandemic, the stress of bringing home COVID-19 looms in the mind of many students.

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has seen relatively lower COVID-19 numbers compared to other colleges throughout the year, but the virus has still made its way around campus. For most students, serious complications aren’t common, and many who did test positive found themselves asymptomatic. This low risk, however, doesn’t extend to parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents – an older and more vulnerable demographic many students would soon interact with for the first time since campus arrival in August.

Bearing this in mind, many students took precautions before going home, including Christopher Rosas – a junior at the university majoring in music technology with a minor in computer science.

“One week before going home, and actually a little before that, I was really trying to shrink my social bubble in preparation,” said Rosas. “If I was to meet with anyone other than my roommate, I tried to make sure that we met outside and/or with face coverings. I wasn’t too worried about bringing covid home because I had been pretty safe all semester – not going out very much, avoiding crowds, maintaining a small social bubble; however there was always a lingering fear that maybe I forgot to sanitize my hands before touching my face or perhaps someone my roommate or I had contact with, even if brief, could’ve resulted in an exposure.”

In addition to these precautions, Rosas got tested right before he drove home and upon arrival used alcohol rags to clean his backpack, laptop keyboard and car steering wheel.

Some students experienced testing difficulties as many testing locations, such as the Ice Area, shut down on Saturday Nov. 21. The remaining locations available for testing Post-Fall Break include Campus Recreation Center (CRCE), Illini Union, State Farm Center, SDRP and Veterinary Medicine. Specifically, on Saturday and Sunday, only CRCE, State Farm Center and SDRP are open for testing.

With UIUC moving to fully online schooling and closing down dorms, many students will be home for over two months – returning to campus for Spring Semester on Jan. 25. 

Being home brings one major change: less testing. At the university, students tested 2-3 times a week, receiving results as soon as 4-5 hours after testing. Now, students have to seek out centers in their hometowns to get tests that may cost money and do not provide results for two or more days. Consequently, students may not be tested for extended periods of time and potentially even spread the disease if they’re unaware of positivities. Because the virus has an incubation time of up to two weeks, the approaching days will reveal whether students coming home across the nation impacted COVID-19 numbers.

Students living in housing not affiliated with the university or those visiting may return to campus and get tested for COVID-19 in the newly designated areas for testing. 

In the meantime, students, staff, and people across the nation will make changes to their holiday plans – trading old traditions for new safety measures. This year, Rosas’ family visited relatives virtually, calling family members over zoom after a Thanksgiving dinner with immediate family. This adaptation will extend past just Thanksgiving.

“We plan to actively avoid family gatherings for upcoming holidays as well,” said Rosas. “I feel that it’s the best choice because it is the most effective option for stopping the spread of the virus among members of our family, and larger community. You can’t spread a virus to someone you are physically separated from.”