Due to concerns over the coronavirus, college students need to stay vigilant. Keep yourself healthy by following basic practices, like washing your hands.

How to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus at College

  • It's important for students to continue protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.
  • Viruses can spread easily in communal spaces through close contact.
  • Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid close contact, and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • If you're sick, let your professors know, and if your symptoms worsen seek medical attention.

Following a turbulent and challenging year of COVID-19 outbreaks around the United States, higher education's approach to spring classes hasn't changed much since the fall. Many colleges that operated fully online have opted to do so again, while others that held in-person classes are choosing to stick with that delivery format.

While recent vaccine rollouts have led to decreasing rates of infection, many college students may be among the last group to be administered a vaccine. As a result, college campuses will likely not return to "normal" until fall 2021 at the earliest.

With that said, some college campuses have remained open to students, and a few have chosen to re-open their doors this spring. UC San Diego is currently housing about 10,000 first-year, sophomore, and transfer students, while Stanford University has invited juniors and seniors to live on campus during this spring quarter.

As campuses slowly reopen, it's important for students to remain vigilant about protecting themselves, as well as their fellow classmates, teachers, and university staff from contracting the coronavirus in the coming months.

Dr. Wesley Long, a clinical pathologist, microbiologist, and prolific infectious disease researcher, says students returning to campus or in-person classes should continue to practice social distancing by "avoiding crowds, parties, sporting events, or unnecessary social contact until the threat of COVID-19 has passed."

Staying informed can also help students plan and cope with the evolving news around the coronavirus. "Ask your college and workplace if they have a plan for dealing with COVID-19," says Dr. Long.

Ultimately, Dr. Long advises students to remain calm and be prepared as "COVID-19 appears to be relatively mild in young adults, with most severe cases occurring in the elderly. If a student is concerned for their health, they should contact student health or their primary care provider by phone to seek guidance," he concludes.

Below are some quick, common-sense tips to help you stay healthy at school and take care of yourself if you've contracted COVID-19 or another kind of virus.

Tips to Prevent Illness On Campus

  • Wash Your Hands

    Viruses can spread easily in enclosed and shared spaces. For students who commonly share communal areas, such as lecture halls, study tables, and dorm rooms, practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting a viral infection.

    "Always make sure to wash your hands when you can, as the number of germs that we pick up throughout the day is astronomical," says Jocelyn Nadua, a registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. You should also avoid touching your eyes, face, and mouth, as viruses can transfer easily from your hands to your respiratory system. If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • Wear a Mask

    Viruses commonly spread through airborne respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. In these droplets, a virus can travel about 3-6 feet, infecting people nearby or landing on hard surfaces.

    In public spaces, face masks or other cloth coverings serve as the best tool to prevent these respiratory droplets from infecting your fellow classmates and teachers. Make sure to wear the mask over your nose and mouth to prevent potential droplets from spreading into the air.

  • Avoid Close Contact

    While outside of your living space, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends maintaining at least a six-foot distance between yourself and others to avoid spreading the virus. It is also encouraged to practice social distancing with friends and family and avoid crowded areas like bars, parties, and dining halls. The more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.

    If your friend, roommate, or significant other is displaying COVID-19-like symptoms, do your best to avoid interactions with them until they get better. The same goes for people displaying symptoms in public places on campus.

  • Disinfect Touched Objects and Surfaces

    In college, where many objects and surfaces are shared among students on campus, viruses can spread quickly. Studies have shown that flu viruses, for example, can survive up to 48 hours on hard surfaces.

    Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated. This should be easy to do in your dorm room or living space; however, you should carry disinfecting wipes with you if you plan on using shared campus objects or surfaces.

  • Get Vaccinated

    While healthy college students could be the last in line to be administered COVID-19 vaccines, all students should be prepared to receive one when it is available to them. To learn when you are eligible to receive a vaccine, check your state's Department of Health website and research your state's individual rollout plans.

    College students who have underlying medical conditions could be permitted to receive a vaccine as early as March 2021. If you fit into this category, try to schedule an appointment in your state as soon as you can.

What to Do if You Get Sick at College

Stay Home and Take Care of Yourself

"If you're sick, staying at home and resting is by far the most efficient way of getting healthy," says Nadua. This means resting, eating healthy, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen.

Separate Yourself From Others

If possible, separate yourself from roommates and friends by staying in a specific room in your living space and using a separate bathroom. If you have experienced COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for the virus, tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed.

Let Your Professors Know

If you know you're going to miss class for an extended period of time, "communicate with professors electronically to stay on top of assignments, as opposed to attempting to go to class or office hours," says Suzet McKinney, CEO and executive director of the Illinois Medical District. Continue to keep your professors updated about your situation through email if your illness worsens.

Monitor Your Symptoms

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and loss of smell and taste. Follow care instructions from your local healthcare provider and health department while continuing to monitor the progression of your symptoms. If you experience trouble breathing, persistent pain, or other extreme symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Visit a Health Center

If you're experiencing worsening COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, contact your local or campus health center and schedule an appointment. A professional medical specialist can provide valuable information and resources that can help you fight your sickness.

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