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Going to College During COVID-19: Tips for Students and their Parents

9/4/2020
For millions of college students around the world, this semester is looking significantly different than last year. After completely moving to remote learning environments last spring, schools are now welcoming back students on-site or offering hybrid learning experiences. As students return to their campus or shared apartment and start attending class again, Assist America shares tips to ensure a safe and healthy college experience. 
 

Educate and Raise Awareness

Some college students may think they do not need to worry about COVID-19 as they are young and fit. However, it’s important for young adults to realize that COVID-19 could affect them and that they should take precautions, so they don’t catch the coronavirus. In addition to endangering their own health, more coronavirus infections among young adults could mean more risk to older people.

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For many countries that have seen recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, studies have shown that these resurgences originated from the young adult population. Indeed, people aged between 20 and 39 account for about 35% to 40% of new cases in England, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Spain, 15- to 29-year-olds account for more than a fifth of new cases[1]. While the increase in testing is one of the reasons for this trend, fatigue over social distancing is a close second. Behaviors such as going out to parties and bars, hugging and kissing friends as they finally get together again, sharing drinks, food, and cigarettes have all been linked to the spread of the virus. Young adults are also often living in shared accommodations, whether on or off-campus, making it hard to social distance and isolate themselves when showing signs of infection.

Educating college students about the risks of COVID-19 for their own health and for their friends and family is critical so that they can make informed choices and adapt their behaviors accordingly. 
 

Follow the 3 W’s

Like everyone, college students should Wear their face masks as soon as they are with other people and when leaving their room or apartment. They should remember to Wash hands with water and soap, or with hand sanitizers, if a sink is not available nearby, every time they touch something that may have been touched by others. Finally, students should Watch their distance and keep 6 feet apart from their peers.

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Check for Mental Health

For students returning to school, or starting their higher education journey, their college experience is going to be drastically changed and that may affect their mental state. How do you make friends and socialize when you are being told repetitively to social distance? With fewer community activities to partake in, some students may be at risk of isolating themselves. 

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In spite of all the extreme changes, students can take on a few simple steps toward maintaining mental wellness through the next semester:
  • Set safety and health boundaries: Students should think about what they are comfortable doing and be confident in their decision. Students may choose to observe stricter or looser guidelines when it comes to social distancing. Some may be comfortable meeting up face to face, while others may prefer remote hangouts. Students should rehearse their responses to social invitations ahead of time and feel confident in their choices.
  • Don’t stop socializing: Social distancing does not mean students have to stop socializing with their classmates, friends and professors. Whether they prefer remote meetings or social-distant in-person meetings, students should still embrace their college life by organizing digital game nights, coffee breaks, study sessions and safe outdoor walks, BYO picnics or gym breaks.
  • Detox from screens: The “new normal” involves more screen time. Students should assign some time each day to turn off their screens and step away from their desk area.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of mental illness among friends: For people on the outside, mental health decline can either be subtle or apparent. A drastic change in personality, for example, sometimes signals psychological distress. Other signs include class absences, plummeting grades, or neglected assignments. If a friend starts drinking or partaking in drug activity more than usual, it is cause for concern, too. Students should point their friends who may be struggling in the direction of on-campus resources or national networks.
  • It’s OK to ask for help: Most schools and campuses provide resources for their students experiencing mental health distress. Since the beginning of the pandemic, some universities have added telehealth counseling to their mental health resources. Students and their parents should research what resources are available, so they know who to turn to when needed.
 
Assist America members have access to Assist America’s 24/7 Operations Center when they need assistance while away from home. Services include referrals to healthcare providers and COVID-19 testing sites, assistance with prescription refills, pre-trip information, medical evacuation or repatriation, and more. For more information about COVID-19 and Assist America’s services during the pandemic, visit www.assistamerica.com.
 


[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-08-13/why-young-adults-are-driving-europe-s-coronavirus-curve