- Many college campuses nationwide saw outbreaks of coronavirus when the university community returned for the school year in the fall and cases spiked in a matter of days of reopening.
- Now, students on and off these campuses are weighing the risks of being home for the upcoming US holiday.
- College students told Business Insider their plans for the holiday as they try to keep themselves and their families safe.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, some college students across the country are deciding whether or not they will travel home, while others say they won’t leave campus at all.
When US schools reopened in the fall, college campuses nationwide saw outbreaks of coronavirus, and cases spiked in a matter of days. Now, nearing the end of the fall semester and heading into the holiday season, the US has seen a massive surge of coronavirus cases, with over a total of 12 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Ahead of the holiday, the CDC has recommended against travel and indoor social gatherings but those warnings have gone ignored by the public and political leaders. Meanwhile, schools are bracing for an “exodus” of students around Thanksgiving, with many offering guidance or restrictions to keep their campus safe.
Students at the University of Texas at Austin will not return to campus after the Thanksgiving break and take finals remotely, according to the university’s fall semester plan.
Kaitlin Porter, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, said they have been living off-campus in a house with friends. They said they plan to fly back home to South Carolina for Thanksgiving — joining about a million people who have so far traveled ahead of the holiday — and stay there until the fall semester breaks in mid-December.
“I decided I didn’t want to live halfway across the country if I didn’t have to for the entire year,” Porter told Business Insider. From the beginning of the semester, Porter said they planned, to head home to their parents and older brother.
Porter said they have been safe, and have not “been out partying” while also being tested weekly while on campus.
“That’s why I’m confident in what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been going about everything,” they said.
But traveling halfway across the country to home from campus does worry Porter who said if “I were to bring anything home, it wouldn’t be from Austin. It would be from the airport.”
While the CDC and public health experts have warned against air travel, airlines have argued that it is safe for passengers to fly. In a recent interview with Axios, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said passengers “should fly” during the pandemic because air cabins recirculate and filter air well, as Business Insider’s Allana Akhtar reported. However, experts say patrons can still contract the virus in crowded airports and sitting near sick passengers.
Still, airports are revamping procedures to meet the demand of Americans eager to get to their family for the holidays. Some are enforcing strict social distancing measures and requiring flyers wear face coverings. Five US airlines are blocking middle seats for Thanksgiving travel but face coverings.
Brianna Mayhair, a fourth-year student at the University of North Dakota, told Business Insider she will not be making the roughly 2.5 hours’ drive from Grand Forks to her home in Jamestown for Thanksgiving.
“I have some family members that are high-risk, so I just thought it was best to just stay,” said Mayhair, who pointed out that she’s only visited her family once since moving on campus at the start of the semester in late August. The university has been asking students to “go home once” and avoid traveling during Thanksgiving if they having remaining obligations on campus.
Instead of visiting her parents and a younger sibling back home, Mayhair said she will be spending the holiday with her grandparents who live in Grand Forks. The college senior said she recently received a negative test result and has been limiting even her local travels.
“I really don’t leave my room, unless I have to go to the grocery store,” she said, adding that she feels comfortable seeing her grandparents because she doesn’t “really interact with anyone on a daily basis.”
Mayhair said her experience has felt “isolating at times,” but being a senior, she said it has been “little easier for me to be more independent.” Mayhair said she’s more concerned about first-year students who have had to adjust to starting college in a pandemic. “It could be very stressful already being away from home, and then right now too is very stressful,” she said referring to general uncertainty for the future.
Jenna Williams, a freshman at The University of Florida, told Business Insider she “had a very small circle” during her first semester in college to avoid putting herself “in danger.”
Williams said she “grew up having this idea of what college is, and I know hopefully in the future, we’ll get back to that point, but there was really no stage of meeting new people.”
Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, her parents picked her up from campus in Gainesville, Florida and together they drove home, she said. She said she plans to return to campus at the end of this week. A spokesperson for The University of Florida told Business Insider in a statement that the university is recommending students to get tested and self-quarantine for 14 days before going home. The university “expanded our testing schedule ahead of the holidays,” according to the spokesperson.
According to NPR’s analysis of data from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, two-third of universities operating with in-person courses this past fall “have no clear testing plan or are testing only students who are at risk.”
Williams said while she had concerns about traveling putting herself in “a risky situation,” she felt safe going home because both she and her parents had been tested before getting together and are taking precautions like keeping a safe distance, told Business Insider.
“We’ve all both been safe, but I feel like right now you can just never be too safe,” she said, adding that despite being family, “we’re not giving up the precautions that are happening.”