Worried about Sending Your Kid to College During COVID?

Anxious about sending your child off to college in the midst of a pandemic? You’re not alone! Whether this is your first (or only) kid to fly the nest, or perhaps your very last “baby” leaving,  COVID19 concerns may be lurking in your brain or keeping you up at night. If so, read on, because I’m sharing my answers to a bunch of parent questions and concerns brought to me by Suzy Mighell, creator and founder of the popular blog and lifestyle brand EmptyNestBlessed.

 

  • Should I be worried about COVID and sending my child back to a college campus this fall?
    • Parents, I believe EVERY mom and dad has a right to worry (and some of us often take this to the extreme), so I won’t deny you that, but I think we have many things to worry about with our college kids…adjustment to living away from home, time management, making new friends, academic challenges, parties…and yes, COVID adds another layer, but it shouldn’t overwhelm everything else. On the plus side, colleges that are able to open their campuses have many new strategies in place that I believe will happily reduce other diseases, too- like colds, flu, strep, and mono. Please also try to keep in mind that over 80% of COVID cases are mild in otherwise healthy young people. This is NOT to minimize the severe cases that occur, nor the possibility of transmission to others with risk factors, because certainly this virus can be lethal. However, I think for most of our kids, a bigger stress from COVID may be the fluctuation of in-person vs online classes, as each campus deals with inevitable outbreaks. Personally, our family will have one college senior doing remote learning (because all her classes went online as of this week) and another  headed back to grad school 1000 miles away. I share your concerns, and I am doing my best to be “alert, not anxious” (thanks to @RealDoctorMike for this appropriate catch phrase.)

 

  • What is the best advice for avoiding COVID on campus?
    • You already know the FIRST THREE: 
      • Pay attention to your campus rules, especially social distancing demarcations.
      • Use a clean, fresh mask daily (Translation: have a BIG supply- a laundry cycle’s worth)
      • Wash hands with soap and water when possible, ALWAYS before eating or touching your face, and cleanse for the full 20 seconds even when using sanitizer- don’t splash & dash!WorriedAboutCollegeCovid
    • 10 MORE Tips!
      • Use dorm/apartment bathroom before heading to class (avoid public restrooms when possible- poor ventilation, lots of traffic, possible aerosolized virus from toilets)
      • Wear glasses (Consider them extra protection, like goggles, and also there is no concern of contaminated fingers touching contacts that then go in to your eyes)
      • Avoid crowds & closed spaces
      • Choose outdoors over indoors (Beach > Pool > Hot tub)
      • Consider slipping a zinc lozenge into your mouth, under your mask- before or during a forced crowd situation (mass transportation, classroom)
        • Although there is conflicting evidence, zinc has been shown to shorten the course of viral illnesses like the common cold, and zinc lozenges can reduce viral replication, attachment and infection in your mouth- meaning you are less likely to “catch” respiratory viral infections, possibly including COVID19. 
        • Zinc lozenges can create a bad taste or nausea, and should not be used in excess of 40mg/day in adults. Definitely avoid using zinc nasal sprays, which have been associated with possibly permanent loss of smell.
      • Optimize your health– diet, sleep, exercise & treat seasonal allergies
      • Get your flu vaccine when your campus offers them in September! The last thing you want is to be knocked down with the flu, and then catch COVID on top of that.
      • STOP smoking. Everything. (Yes, vaping counts, as does any form of tobacco or pot.)
      • Got asthma? Be sure you are using your maintenance inhalers (don’t wait for a flare up)
      • Sterilize your phone & other high-touch surfaces every day (like light switches & doorknobs)
  • What should be included in a “COVID care” kit – preparing in case they get COVID?
    • Thermometer (a digital oral one is most accurate)
    • Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol)– may be needed in combination to lower high fevers and help control body aches.
    • Pulse Oximeter (& nail polish remover if you use nail polish, because polish can decrease the accuracy of readings)
    • Over-the-counter cough syrup & cough drops
    • Pedialyte powder (For rehydration, especially when nausea/vomiting present)
    • Copy of your insurance card, front & back (see below)
    • Also consider the following, although no definitive COVID data yet:
    • Zinc lozenges*– such as Cold-eeze (see above)
    • Baby Aspirin* – although we typically AVOID using aspirin with viral illnesses in young children and teens (because of a potentially serious complication, Reye’s syndrome), there is ongoing debate for using aspirin (such as a single, small daily dose) in COVID infections to prevent the blood clotting complications associated with this disease. Again, this is something to discuss this with your primary care physician before using!
    • Acid blocker*– Pepcid (famotidine)- Retrospective larger studies from China and a recent small study in the US suggest people taking this medication may have better outcomes when infected with COVID. (To be clear, I’m not recommending this to treat COVID, though studies are looking at possible benefits. I do, however, recommend having an acid-blocking medication in your first aid kit anyway, so might as well be this one as research continues.)

 

  • What tips do you have for how a college student should isolate if they have COVID?
    • Most universities will have housing set aside for mandatory student quarantine, especially for any students living on campus.
    • Off campus students may or may not have access to university quarantine space, so they will need to self-isolate ideally in a single bedroom and use a bathroom that no one else is sharing. This may involve other roommates doubling up for the isolation period. (Translation, if you have not yet signed a lease and it is feasible, consider a one bed/one bath per student situation, or plan for an extra bed/bath for a higher number of students that still allows a single bed/bath to be isolated off as needed.)
    • Current recommendations are to isolate for 10 days starting AFTER your:
      • Known exposure (meaning close contact- for at least 15 minutes, within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID, whether or not you were wearing a cloth face covering) OR
      • Symptoms began OR
      • You had a positive test without symptoms
      • AND isolate until you have at least 24 hours WITHOUT fever (meaning no fever WITHOUT using Tylenol, Advil, Aleve or Aspirin products)
      • AND isolate until you have steady improvement in your other symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, body aches, nausea, etc.)

 

  • If my child gets COVID, should I MAKE them come home?
    • No, remember most otherwise healthy young people who get infected will have mild disease. 🙂
    • However, if you live in reasonable driving distance, have few/no risk factors yourself (& by extension your immediate contacts- like possibly your parents- also have no major risk factors) AND you have space and ability to truly isolate them in your home, it’s reasonable to bring them home if they prefer to be there and you can safely be there to provide for their ongoing needs.

 

  • If my child gets COVID, should I go to their college and take care of them?
    • Although most of us would have that immediate reaction/desire, the answer is probably NOT– see above, plus realize that you can’t take them to a hotel or fly home with them, and you most likely will not be allowed to visit them in their campus quarantine or hospital. Would I go anyway if my kid were in that minority, sick enough to be hospitalized? Okay, probably so…but with the understanding I would not be allowed inside the hospital. I would be going for me more than them.

 

  • If my child gets COVID, and I’m not with them, how should we advise them on when they would need to go to the ER? (especially if living in an apartment with no RA)
    • If your student has ANY chest pain, shortness of breath, blue lips, OR a drop in pulse oximeter* reading from normal by several points, it’s time for someone to take them to the hospital ASAP.
      • *This means they need to know their normal pulse oximeter reading (typically 95-99% at sea level). Use the pulse ox a few times this summer & when they arrive at school (because different altitudes can affect the readings) so they know their baseline number. For clarity, I want to repeat that any shortness of breath regardless of your pulse ox reading means you should be evaluated immediately by a health care professional.
      • A second benefit of a pulse ox is a quick reading of your pulse; know that fevers raise your pulse rate; this is helpful information for your clinician if you call in or have a tele-visit.
    • High fevers, dehydration/unable to keep down liquids
    • Confusion, unable to stay awake

 

  • What should my child know about their health insurance plan (like ambulance rides are expensive, or which hospital is covered on their plan?)
    • They NEED A COPY of their insurance card – please have them use their phone to take a pic of both the front and back of their insurance care now,  and then “favorite” it so it’s easily found.  Additionally, I recommend stashing a couple paper copies of the card in their first aid kit.
    • Yes, ambulance rides are very expensive, but in a true emergency, don’t hesitate one minute to call 911 (like anyone short of breath, unconscious, or vomiting/trouble breathing after drinking alcohol).
    • Check with your insurance company regarding any preferred hospitals/doctors for your student’s university town. Doctors will treat anyone who shows up at the ER, but insurance companies have varying reimbursement plans.

 

  • Should my child sign some sort of HIPAA waiver before they go to college so that I can have access to their health information/talk to their doctor about their condition?
    •  YES, because your student’s health providers cannot talk with you unless your adult (18 or older) has signed a release, which is easy if they are conscious and clear headed, but so much easier if you can fax over your already completed forms.
    • Also consider:  medical power of attorney.

 

BOTTOM LINE: We can’t make our kids bullet-proof, but we can help them more successfully fly the nest by thoughtful preparation for the many illnesses, injuries and anxieties that come with college. Look for my next post about creating the best college first aid kit! 

Insert speed-talking commercial announcer voice: This post reflects current evidence on 7/22/20, and COVID19 information evolves by the hour. I am answering these questions through my lens as an intentionally non-politically biased (or at least centrist), board-certified family physician with a focus on college medicine, as well as being a parent of college students myself. I am unapologetically pro-vaccine and encourage preventative health and behaviors at all times. Please discuss specifics with your own doctor, as I cannot know your specific medical history. Additionally, please note I have no financial interest or personal connections with any of the products or services listed above, but these are in fact the products I have in my own home and first aid kits. I’m also excited to share my new book with you: The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness . 

Again, thanks to Suzy!  Click on Empty Nest Blessed for easy access to the complete list of my recommended college first aid kit contents. While no one loves the pandemic, I am certainly grateful it pushed me into the digital meeting world. I love ZOOMing across the country, connecting with amazing new groups across so many different platforms!

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12 thoughts on “Worried about Sending Your Kid to College During COVID?”

    • Great point- changed it! I was originally adapting this from another post where the audience was 99% moms. Appreciate your feedback & didn’t mean for it to read that dads didn’t have a right to worry- was emphasizing as a group, we moms tend to over-worry 🙂

      Reply
  1. Related question: for the many off campus students who have multiple roommates/ suite mates, if and when one of them comes down with symptoms, does that mean all off them should quarantine in their place?

    Reply
    • This gets complicated quickly! If anyone has close contact (more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone diagnosed with COVID), they should quarantine. Certainly those sharing a bedroom would qualify as a close contact, but it’s possible those in other bedrooms might not be (depending upon schedules, how much they are in the apartment, etc.) If sharing a bathroom, I definitely worry about transmission though, because of poor ventilation and aerosols from the toilet. If the infected person is going to remain in the apartment, then all should definitely quarantine.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the information. My daughter has yet to decide if her participation will be presential or virtual which adds to the stress at the moment.
    We will all get COVID, eventually, the question is when and how bad.
    In the meantime, Stay healthy.
    I have also read the benefits of Vitamin C and papaya enzymes.

    Reply
  3. Very informative! Thank you—I’ll definitely share with our parents I know. Wanted to clarify—is this date incorrect though? “This post reflects current evidence on 2/22/20.”

    Reply
    • THANK YOU for pointing that out! That was a typo, I wrote this on JULY 22nd, 2020. Back in February, we knew so little…amazing what we have learned. Changed it & again, thanks.

      Reply
  4. I appreciate the article, but I’m in Florida and we seem to have it bad here. The Miami Marlins couldn’t make it 2 days without a whole team dedicated to keeping them safe. They know have 8 players sick and a few coaches and the Phillies, who they played three games with, should probably cancel games to be safe as well. Their resources and protocols are far better than a college campus and their population size is orders of magnitude smaller. Our daily deaths have gone from 35 per day to 125 per day in a month. I’m not trying to be contrarian. I’m looking for someone educated to give me cause for hope here. Please help!

    Reply
    • How I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future to either give you hope or wisely counsel towards more online classes! I imagine we will see ebbs and flows of fully online vs. hybrid classes as different campuses across the country experience surges, react, tighten things up, then readjust. Local prevalence and degree of community “buy in” for consistent social distancing and masking will play a huge role, but I do think most young people are highly motivated to do what it takes to be able to be on campus. The extremes (super high prevalence or practically none) will be easy, but reacting to the surges in all the middle ground will be an enormous challenge for our college administrators across the country (and the globe.)

      Reply

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