Home for the holidays: What college students should consider before travelling

Your guide to getting COVID-19 tests, self-quarantining, and safely celebrating the holidays

Cierra Noffke, Culture Editor

If there’s anything college students deserve right now, it’s a break. This has been a wearying semester: we’ve had to acclimate to online classes, endure the increasing polarity of American politics and watch as COVID-19 numbers fluctuate around the country.

Because of the way this year’s fall 2020 academic schedule is structured, all final exams administered after Thanksgiving Break are required to be online. This means that it’s likely when students go home for Thanksgiving, they’ll stay off-campus until classes resume in January. But before you reach for your keys and travel home for this year’s extended—and well-deserved—break, you should consider some safety precautions first.

If you’re planning on visiting your family this year, even if for a couple of days, you should get tested 3-4 days before leaving. COVID-19 cases are projected to rise throughout the holidays, at the same time as the annual flu season. Reach out to your family. Make sure they know of your plans to get tested and potentially avoid bringing the virus home with you.

How do I get tested?

UNCW’s Student Health Center currently offers free COVID-19 tests to UNCW students. You can make an appointment by following the guidelines here.

If you’re trying to convince non-UNCW students to get tested, UNCW is collaborating with the New Hanover County Health Department to offer free drive-through COVID-19 testing for the public. Details are available here.

I have my COVID-19 test results, now what?

If you test negative, limit your social activities before you travel. Remember to regularly wear a face covering, regularly wash or sanitize your hands, and keep your distance in public settings. Don’t get lazy just because your test results are negative—there’s still a chance you could catch the virus before heading home.

If you test positive, reach out to the Student Health Center. As per Chancellor Sartarelli’s email on COVID-19 trends, the center will offer quarantine and isolation spaces throughout the holidays. This may sound bleak, but by self-quarantining, you could be protecting your own family from getting the virus. If you are stuck at home for a while, here’s a list of 24 things to do while self-isolating; most important amongst them is to take care of your mental health.

Remember, UNCW is requiring all residential students to take a COVID-19 test before they move back in on campus. If you test positive while at home for Thanksgiving or winter break, UNCW is requiring residential students to stay home until they’re released from isolation.

What’s the safest way to celebrate the holidays this year?

This is a burning question and one that depends, of course, on how your family is choosing to celebrate this year. There are a couple of things to consider. The most important is, if you’re feeling sick or you’ve been in close contact with someone who is sick, stay home. It’s tough to ask, but will definitely make all the difference. Get a COVID-19 test and proceed from there.

If it’s possible, arrange for smaller household gatherings and plan for a virtual holiday celebration with those who live further away. This doesn’t have to be bleak either. Here’s a list of engaging activities for a virtual party—including sharing spooky stories or syncing up your streaming accounts for a sitcom drinking game.

If you’re planning on forgoing a visit home this year, stay occupied and in-touch with your family and put in the work to make this holiday special for yourself.  Reach out to those in your close social circle who may also be staying home this year to plan for a socially-distanced holiday gathering or plan a safe solo trip. 

Remember, it’s ultimately up to you to choose how your holiday plans will go. Be safe and stay healthy.