For a few months in 2020, the world stood still. Businesses and schools alike closed their doors and sent everyone home. The 2020 spring semester was especially hard for college students who live and breathe campus life. As it becomes apparent that COVID-safety is the new normal, schools are opening again and are adapting to the necessary changes. With new policies and classroom standards, it’s time for students to gear up for a new look at campus life.
If you are currently enrolled in college and have plans to return this semester, it’s time to seriously consider your on-campus safety plans. With hundreds to thousands of other students nearby, in addition to teachers and staff, the risk for virus spread is relatively high. The good news is that campuses are opening because a few smart policies significantly reduce that risk. We’ll talk the science first, then dive into practical tips for college COVID safety.
Epidemiology on Campus
Heading back to school, we need to think about the most effective ways to reduce the COVID risk. The science says that social distancing, masks, and surface cleanliness all contribute to controlling infection spread. That said, looking back on recent incidents, the single most important factor has been face masks. Two hairdressers who worked through their pre-and-post-symptom infectious period did not infect a single one of their 139 customers. Why? Both stylists wore masks 100% of the time in the salon.
This means that wearing a face mask (and having everyone wear them) is the key to controlling infection spread. It’s also easier to do than constantly washing your hands, wiping surfaces, and wearing pool-noodle hoops to enforce distancing. Students can best protect themselves and their classmates by wearing masks whenever they are not alone in a room.
Social Distancing in the Classroom
Now let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of preparing for your post-COVID semester. The first big difference is distancing. Most campuses specialize in packing students in like stacking firewood. Dormitories, lecture halls, cafeterias – these are facilities for educating the masses altogether. Now things are changing, and it’s up to both students and the schools to keep everyone at a safe distance.
If everyone is wearing a mask, consider social distancing to be no-contact. Avoid touching or even bumping into your friends when hanging out, and try to avoid brushing against classmates in the hallways or in crowds.
When you choose a desk or lecture chair, leave at least one desk between you and already seated students. If you social distance in line and worry about line-cutting, use your backpack to mark the distancing-space between you and the person ahead.
Your Mask-Wearing Plan
As we mentioned, masks are the most important and effective way to stay COVID-safe. So every college student needs to pack a big stack of washable masks and wash them weekly, just like the rest of your laundry. Let’s dive into a few well-thought-out mask strategies for surviving college life.
- Pack Masks like T-Shirts
- How many t-shirts did you pack for school? How many do you wear in a day, considering workouts and shower schedule? Chances are, you have more t-shirts than you have any other clothing item, except maybe undergarments. Pack as many masks as t-shirts and wash them just as frequently.
- Plan to Wear 2-4 Masks a Day
- Masks also have to be changed out during the day. Why? Because once a mask becomes damp with your breath particles, it’s not as effective for protection. You will likely want to change your mask at least once during a busy day, or allow your mask to dry when alone in your room. For this reason, you want to stock your washable masks predicting 2, up to 4 masks per day.
- Wash Masks on Hot – Bring Extra Quarters
- When you wash your masks, use the hottest settings. Cute masks are great, but focus on masks that can withstand a lot of heavy-duty washing on hot. Since masks need to be washed all the time, plan to pack more quarters if you’re using a shared laundry room.
- Practice Wearing a Mask All the Time
- Finally, get used to wearing a mask during everyday activities. We know it’s tempting to pull the mask or adjust it frequently, but safety is highest when your mask stays put. You can prepare yourself by wearing the mask at home for a few hours a day before the semester starts, so you can sit through lectures and run across campus with it on later.
Know Your School’s Safety Policies
Your college will have new policies to keep students safe – this is mandatory for reopening the classrooms. Know what those policies are and follow them. Each teacher may also have their own rules for maintaining safety while completing their curriculum. Seating charts will likely come back in force, and the use of shared student facilities will see more regulation.
Look for sources of information. Read the latest student handbook. Your school should also have an online information center on its COVID response plan for students and staff. Explore this resource thoroughly and you might pick up a few helpful tips and campus services you didn’t know about.
Finally, be ready for your teacher’s individual policies. We’re seeing some real creativity in plans for COVID-safe curriculum. Many teachers will choose to teach remotely, so your class time can be spent privately with a laptop – either in your room or a campus study space.
Using Shared Campus Resources
One of the greatest benefits of a college is its bounty of shared resources. The library is only the beginning. Every campus is a labyrinth of practice rooms, art studios, computer lab, workshops, auditoriums, black-box stages, sports courts, cafeterias, food courts… the exact balance depends on your college.
Use these spaces opportunistically, but carefully. Know how to sanitize a shared space before use. Carry sanitizing wipes and clean off any space you plan to occupy. Consider carrying fold-out privacy shield, as they use for testing, as a makeshift sneeze-guard on shared tables. Use the ever-other-table rule when sharing venues with other students.
COVID-Safe School Supplies
- Zip-Binders and Pencil Boxes are Back
- Wrap Those Devices
- The Backpack Wipe Dispenser Trick
- Portable Sneeze-Guard
No article about back-to-school would be complete without a list of school supplies, and we’d hate to disappoint. This year, your school supplies list looks a little different. In addition to new notebooks for each subject, it’s time to think about sealing your supplies. Zip-up binders and pencil boxes are the new thing. Put washable covers and screen protectors on your devices, even waterproof keyboard covers, so you can wipe things down constantly.
Here’s a fun discovery: Diaper bags are messenger bags with a wet-wipe dispenser. The ones designed for professional moms look pretty snappy, and the ones designed for sporty moms can go jogging with you. If you’re in the market for a new backpack, your friends may never guess that “infant care” was in the product title.
You might also consider “desk shields” and “portable sneeze guards.” These are one product type by two names -folding plastic that goes on a desk/table and keeps your breath separate from everyone else’s. For sharing a library or cafeteria table, it can be the most polite way to sit close together.
Roommates and COVID Safety
How safe is it to have a roommate right now? It depends on your separate and shared lifestyles. Two roommates who are both careful outside the room can be considered inside your “household” in terms of COVID immunity. However, remember that your roommate could also be an incoming vector for infection if they are not careful.
Right now, it is safer to have your own apartment, or at least a separate bedroom, but not all college students (most) don’t have this option. So realistically:
Dorms and Room Sharing
If your college has permitted the dorms to reopen, they might be enforcing single-occupant rooms. If roommates are still the status-quo, then prepare for room sharing. We advise sticking with tidy roommates who always wear their mask outside the room. Also, try to be that roommate. We advise attitudes about PPE and virus safety to be a new compatibility test.
If you share a room, your roommate is definitely inside your ‘household’ for immunity purposes, whether that household is secure or porous.
Separate Bedroom Roommates
Lucky college students can secure a group-house style roommate situation instead – where each roommate (or couple) has their own bedroom. Even better if bathrooms are also private. In this case, you can treat your roommates like neighbors for immunity purposes. Some groups might agree to wear masks in the shared area; others will agree to be very careful outdoors so you can be masks-off together inside the shared home.
Student Love in the Time of Corona – Can You Date?
Finally, the question of dating. What about connecting with interesting new people that you meet on campus? Can you date?
Yes. But it’s important to stay immunity-conscious while planning for physical contact and close proximity.
Virtual Remote Dates
The first and best option is to keep it remote. During your ‘getting to know you’ time, plan most of your dates in cyberspace. Choose cool places to hang out or just share video chats. You can watch movies together by streaming simultaneously and making jokes through your video call. You can play games against each other or working as a team. This is a great way to really get to know someone new before things get heated.
To spend time together, wear masks at first and go to public places. Go places where you can hold (gloved or cleaned) hands and talk. Pick activities you can do together like rock-climbing or skating that can avoid the crowds and don’t require physical contact. If you go to dinner, use a table sneeze guard while masks are down to eat.
Isolation Before Exposure
If you’re thinking about getting physical or moving in together, isolate for 14 days first. Take steps to 100% avoid exposure using masks, gloves, and sanitizer. This way, you can be sure neither of you is infected when you finally give in to passion and mix immunities.
Keep Yourself Healthy
College guides always tell you to take care of yourself. Students notoriously lose track of the little things and start living on ramen noodles or potato chips. Normally, you can get away with a few years of poor nutrition and insane sleep patterns for the sake of young adult learning. But during the COVID pandemic — however long it lasts — we all need to keep our immunity in peak-condition.
So get a regular amount of sleep – at least five hours a night, and don’t pull more than one all-nighter a week if you can help it. Drink sports drinks and water to stay hydrated. Remember your veggies, or at least canned vegetable soup in the dorm microwave. Find ways to add nutrients to your diet as much as possible, like by having a green smoothie in the morning.
Take a special effort to stay active. Hiking across campus is a great start for any student, and you can take long walks without getting close to anyone. Make sure to reach cardio at least once a day. You’ll sleep better and fight off illness more efficiently.
College is a complicated time for any student, and COVID adds one more layer of complexity. Fortunately, you’re not alone. You stand with the entire rest of the student body and every staff member in adapting to the new normal on campus. With these tips and your own innovations, you can plan to rock this year COVID-safe and career-forward.