• Colleges are taking action to protect students against the new coronavirus, COVID-19.
  • Illnesses such as coronavirus and other viruses, like the flu, can spread easily in communal spaces through close contact.
  • Be sure to wash your hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • If you're sick, let your professors know and seek campus medical attention.

Following federal warnings, concerns are mounting about a possible outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in American communities and colleges. In an effort to protect students against infection, a growing list of schools are taking extraordinary measures, such as canceling study abroad programs.

At least five universities have suspended programs in Italy, where several hundred cases have been confirmed; other schools have canceled programs in China and South Korea. Students and faculty members enrolled in these programs will return to the United States to complete their studies.

With spring break around the corner, droves of students will also be traveling both domestically and internationally. This could increase the risk of contracting coronavirus, or another illness, underscoring the need for sanitary habits that will prevent the spread of sickness back on campus.

Dr. Wesley Long, a clinical pathologist, microbiologist, and prolific infectious disease researcher, says students should 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 coronavirus. “Ask your college and workplace if they have a plan for dealing with COVID-19,” says Dr. Long.

Ultimately, Dr. Long advises students not to panic and to 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 a virus.

A college student wearing an athletic sweatshirt and a a backpack blows his nose into a tissue outside a bus stop.

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.

  • Cover Coughs and Sneezes

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

    Use the crook of your elbow or a tissue to prevent your fellow classmates from becoming infected.

  • 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 with germs. This should be easy to do in your dorm room or living space. Carry disinfecting wipes with you if you plan on using shared campus objects or surfaces.

  • Avoid People Who Are Sick

    If your friend, roommate, or significant other is displaying flu-like symptoms, do your best to avoid close contact with them until they get better.

    The same goes for people displaying symptoms in public places on campus. People can spread viruses within a three-foot radius, so put as much distance as you can between you and them.

  • Get a Flu Shot

    Getting the flu vaccine annually is the single best way of protecting yourself and others from experiencing and spreading the flu at college.

    “Each year, the flu vaccine is made up of the strains of flu that have circulated over the previous 3-4 years. Obtaining a flu shot will give some immunity to each of the 3-4 strains contained in the vaccine,” says Suzet McKinney, CEO and executive director of the Illinois Medical District (IMD).

  • Be Prepared and Informed

    In the midst of the emerging threat of coronavirus and the annual flu season, it’s important to be aware of outbreaks and their severity on campus.

    Pay close attention to important email notices or announcements from your university; they may contain crucial information and instructions from the student health center or local health department about how to prevent the spread of illness.

A man in a t-shirt throughly washes his hands in a public restroom.

What to Do if You Get Sick at College

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 avoiding contact with other people.

Let Your Professors Know

If you know you're going to miss a few days of class, “communicate with professors electronically to stay on top of assignments, as opposed to attempting to go to class or office hours,” says McKineey. Continue to keep your professors updated about your situation through email if your illness worsens.

Visit the Campus Health Center

If you're sick for a couple days, have really bad symptoms, or simply don't feel right, use your school’s health resources. Make an appointment or walk in to the campus health center to get a check up from a medical specialist. They can provide valuable information and resources that can help you fight your sickness.