Going Back to School During a Pandemic: Unique Tips You Probably Haven't Heard Yet

Student Life

There are several grueling factors that come into play when deciding to go back to school and regular, in-person classes. With news about COVID-19 and the protracting pandemic still circulating, it is definitely not an easy decision to make; and it should require careful and extensive consideration from families, caregivers, guardians, and affected students before a verdict is reached. Most kids and teens can affirmatively say that they have never been given a choice when it comes to attending school each year in the fall. But now they have been given one—and the variables and options are overwhelming.

After mounting pressure being piled on their school districts, many institutions are reluctantly and cautiously re-opening their doors. Parents are rightfully hesitant. Schools and stores seem to be the most predominant epicenters when it comes to the spread of diseases. But with proper precautions and input from families set in place, it is worth acknowledging the benefits that could be reaped from attending physical campuses while critically analyzing the institution's re-opening procedures.

Since the beginning of the pandemic and influx of stay-at-home orders, many working parents and guardians have expressed concern over finding appropriate childcare and finding a balance between work and parenting. With both areas of their lives becoming increasingly demanding, many adults in the workforce (especially women) are watching in fear as their most pivotal source of income is threatened. The re-opening of schools could help assist in the reparation of some families' functionality.

And from a student's perspective, the prospect of schools re-opening could be a miraculous alleviator for depleted social interaction and pent-up mental health complications developed or worsened during quarantine. Within the sparse (but bound-to-expand) research that has been done concerning students' mental health during the pandemic, there is a study conducted by Active minds (a nationally-acclaimed mental health awareness organization founded by University of Pennsylvania-graduate, Alison Malmon after her brother committed suicide due to both known and suppressed struggles with mental illness), which states that out of 3,239 high school and higher education students interviewed, 20% of college students reported their mental health worsening significantly, and 8 in 10 of all students reported struggling to focus. What's more, a large majority of students cited their parents as their number one source of physical social interaction during the lengthy quarantine.

Whatever a family's reason may be for allowing their household students to return to in-person classes may be, it can be almost universally agreed that two primary things are of utmost importance when it comes to the phased re-opening of schools: students' mental health, and students' physical health. These two imperative variables are no doubt anxiety-inducing and nerve-wracking, but luckily, we have compiled a structured list of tips and suggestions that will help make students' physical and mental return to in-person classes go a lot smoother.

1) Start Preparing as Soon as Possible

It goes without saying that the beginning of this school year will be unlike any year prior. This year, back-to-school to school is about more than just buying new supplies and clothes. This school year, parents and guardians, teachers, and the student(s) themselves most collaborate to devise an overarching plan that will, in the end, benefit everyone as much as possible.

With this new plan, change is inevitable for the 2020-2021 school year (both within schools and within homes). But, of course, change reasonably and naturally not always well-perceived. However, to ease the anxieties surrounding these changes, it is important that you, as the student, are aware that you have to be willing to communicate as well as make difficult sacrifices in order for your feelings/opinions to be accounted for in the creation of a cohesive arrangement. Your feelings, passions, and health are all the premise of any changes. However, just because this adapting and tentative arrangement benefits your health and safety and tries to make your personal life as normal as possible—that does not mean you are exempt from completely justified frustrations.

It's okay to be angry, sad, and confused when it comes to the 2020-2021 school year and the unfamiliar changes that have been put in place due to the prolonged pandemic. It's okay to perceive the arrangements put in place as "unfair" at times. But whenever you start to feel these emotions arise, try to remember this analogy:

As a kid, did you ever get sick and have to miss out on something really fun and exciting? Perhaps something you had been highly anticipating? You were probably devastated, and you probably pleaded with your parents to let you participate in the event/activity. But more than likely, they told you something along the lines of "you need your rest in order to get better" or "you don't want to spread your germs to other kids, do you?".

The same can be applied when it comes to re-opening our beloved schools and making personal sacrifices due to the pandemic. At the end of the day, you will make sacrifices in the process of making arrangements for re-opening and throughout the school year for two indispensable, vital reasons: your health and the health of others.

Ahead of the school year rush, the best thing you can do in order to cope with these changes and help them be implemented smoothly is to prepare yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally ahead of time. Remind yourself that things will look different this year, and that is scary and stressful, but there is a team effort behind these changes.

2) Establish Boundaries With Your Friends Ahead of Time

When lock-down and stay-at-home orders were first implemented across many states and countries, entire populations got to feel the effects of self-quarantining. More than likely, you felt the resonating isolation as well. It can be mentally and emotionally draining to not have any social interaction outside your own household. Most likely, if you are going back to in-person institution, one the reasons you decided to do so was for the social stimulus and rekindling old relationships.

But one thing we all have to understand is that this is a virus that spreads through socialization. We have seen all seen numerous restrictions executed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but as some states begin to slowly reopen academic campuses, we have to be fully aware that we are still in the middle of pandemic with a virus that spreads through interaction. Because of the circumstances, you, as an affected student, need to accept that there will still be restrictions in place upon your return to a very social environment (either implemented by the state/country you live in, your school, or by your household). For instance, your parents may not feel comfortable with you going to sleepovers or parties, or your school may devise a system in which you and a selected cluster of classmates stays together for every period.

This is all frustrating, of course. But the rules your parents, school, or state make in relation to social interaction exist to prevent cross-contamination. Talk with your parents and schools ahead of time, and make plans with your friends accordingly. It will be strange and (at times) depressing to have a barrier between you and the people you've waited to see in person for so long, but there are several ways to still have fun with your friends without being in close proximity or risking contamination. Some examples include: setting up a group chat, video chatting through Skype or Facetime, or meeting in wide outdoor areas.

3) Stock up on Face Coverings to Switch out Through the Week

According to an article released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on July 9th, 2020, entitled "Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions", which listed several scientific observations about the virus, " transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur through direct, indirect, or close contact with infected people through infected secretions such as saliva and respiratory secretions or their respiratory droplets, which are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings".

Currently, there aren't many studies available on the percentage of effectiveness for non-medical masks in non-medical environments or prolonged use. For that reason, we should take the recommendations of experts. Right now, many scientists and researchers collectively agree that even if we wear a mask and maintain the recommended six feet apart, we should still take an added personal precaution afterward—and that is washing or changing masks after every use.

Taking this simple action prevents the spread of COVID by eliminating any droplets that may have been spread to your face mask externally, or any other foreign substances.

Lisa Maragakis, M.D., a Senior Director of Infection Prevention at The John Hopkins Health System and an Associate Professor of Medicine writes in an article about "How to Care for Your Face Mask" that "It’s a good idea to have at least two [masks]. This way, you will have a fresh mask if one is in the wash".

While we don't know the exact probability of bacteria that can escape from or spread to masks, we know that they are the most effective way of preventing the spread of ejected particles and that's always a good idea to keep an article of cloth that is meant for filtration and will cover your mouth fresh and clean. So make sure you are changing out your maks, whether you're using disposable masks or reusable ones.

4) Understand Proper Mask Use and Care

Chances are, if you are attending in-person classes this Fall, you will be wearing a mask for upwards of five hours a day. So taking care of it should be a top priority! Not only will the upkeep keep you healthy, but it also keeps you comfortable. Several reputable experts have collectively agreed on similar instructions/care guidelines when it comes to wearing and rescuing a mask:

- The best material for reusable masks is a tightly-woven fabric. A good example of this would be cotton. Ideally, a reusable mask should have three layers: a hydrophilic fabric (such as cotton) to absorb droplets from your exhaled breath, a non-woven material tucked into a pocket between the two layers that can act as a filter t, and a hydrophobic outer layer (such as polyester) that can repel droplets and moisture. To learn more about finding a proper reusable mask, check out the World Health Organization's (WHO) videos on Recommended Fabric Mask Materials and Composition.

-Wash reusable masks frequently. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing fabric masks after every use. This can be done by throwing the mask in a regular washing machine with hot water, or you can hand wash it using a bleach solution.

-If wearing a disposable mask, there is usually a colored side (most times, blue). Almost always, this side is meant worn outside, away from your face. You may have seen a photo or video a few months ago claiming something along the lines of “White side out: Filter- When (you’re) not sick and want to keep the virus out” and “Blue side out: to keep germs in when (you’re) sick.” This has been debunked by several doctors. If you are wearing a standard disposable, medical mask, the colored side should always be worn outwardly.

- If wearing a disposable mask, mold the stiff or metal piece in the edge to the shape of your nose

- Wash your hands before and after removing your mask

- Store your mask in a dry, sanitary plastic or paper bag if you plan to reuse it

- ALWAYS remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or ties and pulling the fabric AWAY from your face

- Make your mask fits snuggly on your face, but ensure you can still breathe comfortably. The folds of your mask should never "pucker" away from your cheeks

- Make sure the mask covers your nose, chin, and mouth

- Don't wear your mask below your nose or chin

- Inspect masks for dirt, grime, or damage regularly

- Do not let your mask hang from your ear. Take it off fully (and store it in a plastic or paper bag) or put it on fully

- Do not wear a wet or dirty mask

- Neck gaiters have recently been proven to do more harm than good. While there is still a lot of data out there pertaining to masks and other facial coverings that we have not collected yet, Duke University recently released the results of a study they conducted which examined the effectiveness of a variety of facial coverings. Their findings concluded that wearing a neck gaiter "is worse than no mask at all when it came to protection" due to the fabric's porous texture, which could split large COVID-19 particles into even smaller ones, which linger in the air for much longer. The study and the topic in general are still caught in the middle of a wide-spread and complex debate, however, you should do your own individual research before selecting any face covering to determine its reliability

- Just like neck gaiters, there is some controversy and debate over clear, visor-like, plastic face shields. Currently, the CDC does not outright recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for traditional masks. However, they do not deny the benefits others have observed with clear face shields. The extra coverage may increase protection of the eyes, and the clear plastic is a benefit for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and depend on lip-reading for communication. Additionally, disposable masks are sadly abundantly discarded on the ground in public areas, which produces a concern for infection risks. However, face shields provide a solution in this area as they can easily be cleaned and reused without hassle. Some recent studies have even daringly claimed that face shields are more effective than any traditional masks. However, none of these points or claims should negate the fact that you should do your own individual research when it comes to selecting a personal face covering.

- Once you have put on your mask, treat it as part of your face. Do not touch it, or adjust it by pinching the front between your fingers. If you need to adjust your mask, USE THE ELASTIC LOOPS OR TIES

5) Disinfect Your Belongings When You Come Home

According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing entitled COVID-19 basics Symptoms, spread, and other essential information about the new coronavirus and COVID-19, "A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel".

We've known the importance of disinfecting belongings during viral seasons since elementary school when our teachers would pull out canisters of Lysol wipes during flu season. Disinfecting our belongings is not a "lost art" during this pandemic. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that "high-touch surfaces in... non-health care settings...be identified for priority disinfection". Examples of these "high-touch surfaces" include items you may find yourself using frequently, such as your phone, your wallet, your keys, and your computer. WHO goes on to advise appropriate disinfectants and disinfecting procedures: "In non-health care settings, sodium hypochlorite (bleach / chlorine) may be used at a recommended concentration of 0.1% or 1,000ppm (1 part of 5% strength household bleach to 49 parts of water). Alcohol at 70-90% can ...be used for...disinfection. Surfaces must be cleaned with water and soap or a detergent...to remove dirt, followed by disinfection. Cleaning should ...start from the least soiled (cleanest) area to the most soiled (dirtiest) area in order to not spread the dirty to areas that are less soiled."

Yale University recently released a list of safety guidelines which included recommendations for disinfecting personal electronics. In their section entitled "COVID-19: Cleaning Computers and Electronics for All Users", the university recommends using a "lint-free, such as a screen wipe or cloth made from microfiber" when cleaning computers, avoiding drenching electronics with cleaners, unplugging all chargers and cables, avoiding aerosol cleaners and bleach, and never spraying disinfectant directly on an item. Approved cleaners include Clorox disinfectant wipes or "a wipe containing 70% alcohol". When cleaning electronics, the same university-approved guidelines state that you should carefully wipe down "nonporous surfaces" such as keyboards and touchscreens.

Aside from electronic devices, several researchers, doctors, and scientists have reached a general consensus that you should disinfect regularly-touched items that could possibly be exposed and contaminated in confined public areas. Bottom line: Devise a "disinfecting routine" for arriving home. Make sure you disinfect anything that you use and touch during school hours.

6) Should You Worry About Your Clothes and Shoes?

If you have ventured into public areas during the pandemic to get (or help get) groceries, go to work, or participate in socially-distanced activities, chances are you have had your fair share of anxieties regarding potential transmission. Am I protecting myself enough? Am I too close? Is this really six feet apart? Oh God, should I touch that? How many people have touched that? Chances are if you have fallen into the (certainly justified) pandemic-apprehension-pitfall, these thoughts and others have crossed your mind more than once. Maybe one of your many disquietude-conceived concerns included whether or not you need to worry about your clothes amidst COVID-19. What if airborne droplets seep into your clothes? What if the ground you are walking on is contaminated, and you contract and spread the virus with your shoes? Can you be infected by your own garments?

There seems to be a lot of back-and-forth over the topic. Bruce Y. Lee, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York, wrote a Forbes article in which he brings a scientific and humorous perspective to the question: "Keep in mind that if you’ve spent ...days at home with no one...but your hole-filled undergarments, your clothes in all likelihood have not been exposed to the SARS-CoV2. Similarly, if you’ve maintained... social distancing...chances are your clothes have not been contaminated" and "If you suspect contamination, take off your clothes as soon you can after the exposure. If the exposure occurred in a grocery store, do not do this immediately, as this may cause additional problems. Instead, wait until you are actually in a position to legally take off your clothes, such as when you reach your home". Meanwhile, Cleavland Clinic writes "If you’ve been out and about, strip down and toss your clothes in the wash".

However, the CDC has written this about the concerns and disputes: "The likelihood of COVID-19 being spread on shoes and infecting individuals is very low."

Still, this statement only covers shoes. As for clothes, Healthline offers this statement: "There have been no documented cases of transmission of the novel coronavirus via clothing... at this point". At the end of the day, clothing and shoes don't have to be your main priority when sanitizing, however, there is no harm in taking an extra precaution if you are in a population people that have (or may have) contracted the virus or there are small, crawling children at home. In the end, breathe a sigh of relief and toss your clothes in the wash if you still feel the need.

7) Buy Effective Hand Sanitizer

Chances are if you have attended school for a while, you have carried a small, travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer—in glittery-rubber covers and keychain lopes, with googly-eyed animals and potent Bath and Body Works scents. Before, you probably would have just swiped the disinfectant across your hands "just in case"—maybe before lunch or after completing a lab, the times you use your handy hand sanitizer becoming more sparse and far in between. In 2020, hand sanitizer has become a pivotal item for many. This year and pandemic also come with a second revelation when it comes to proper sanitation: Not all hand sanitizer is created equally.

The CDC recommends that—if unable to wash their hands—people use hand sanitizers with an alcohol content of at least 60%. This has proven to be the most effective solution. The FDA also has a Q&A specific to hand sanitizer in relation to the COVID-19 should anyone have any questions about proper hand hygiene—so make sure you stock up!

8) Stay Up to Date on Your School's Procedures and Experts' Advice

It seems like this pandemic has given us an endless plethora of lessons. For some, one lesson that can be taken from the unfathomable word event is: Everything is subject to change. Rules and guidelines are not nonmalleable. That statement definitely resonates with the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2. Think of how many times your state, school, or the CDC has changed its guidelines in application for the virus. The rules laid out by these organizations have expanded and become flexible several times to encompass new studies and research as more is learned about the highly-contagious virus.

As mentioned previously in this article, these guidelines—even though it may feel like it at times—are not meant as a direct attack on you or your peers. They are put in place for your safety and health. While it is okay and completely natural to feel that the rules are unfair, please try to have a willingness to adhere to the necessary guidelines. They will help things return back to normal in the long run!

To stay updated on new guidelines for your state, country, and school try following the CDC or WHO on social media, keep track of news from reliable sources, follow your governor or mayor's social media account, and/or follow news pages or local news websites from your state or county.

9) Don't Let Others Borrow Your Personal Belongings (And Don't Borrow Belonging's From Others!)

This seems like a given, but it warrants saying: DON'T LET ANYONE BORROW YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS, AND DON'T BORROW BELONGINGS FROM OTHERS! We know through research that COVID-19 is highly contagious, spreading through respiratory droplets when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks, which can live on surfaces for extended amounts of time. Meaning, if you let someone borrow— say, a pencil or pouch— they could be breathing out contaminated droplets, which could infect your belongings, thereby exposing you if they intend on returning the item or items. On the flip side of the coin: YOU could be breathing out contaminated droplets, and this will raise a problem if you lend someone a supply or item.

As a precaution, don't lend any of your supplies or belongings to others. If a classmate is truly in need of an item, speak to a teacher or ask if there is a depository for the item somewhere (such as a crate full of pencils for the entire classroom). Otherwise, no exchanges should be made.

10) Wash Your Hands Frequently While on Campus, and Avoid Touching Your Face

We have been taught since we were younger (during flu and cold seasons especially) that we should wash our hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs. We play a pivotal role in the prevention of contagious diseases. That sentiment is only increased in 2020—when a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets and contact is raging across the world. According to an informative infographic produced by The World Health Organization, "Hand Hygiene is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce...spread...and prevent infections, including the COVID-19 virus".

Since the pandemic's beginning, the CDC has released a set of guidelines and recommendations for hand hygiene during COVID-19. In the article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights instances in which you may need to wash your hands and provides an infographic that includes visual instructions for washing your hands thoroughly. A few key takeaways from the list of refutable suggestions are: use clean water, wash thoroughly for at least twenty seconds, and dry your hands thoroughly.

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly while on campus. To learn more about proper handwashing, visit the CDC or WHO'S website.

11) Try Not to Mingle in the Hallways

It's easy to understand why kids are excited about seeing their friends and classmates again after an unfathomable six months of no in-person school. It's also understandable that between going back to school and being able to speak to their friends face-to-face again, students may become negligent of the fact that things are not completely back to normal yet. We cannot afford to be careless during this phase of reopening.

While the urge students feel for close socialization invokes empathy, it is important to remember the consequence of not adhering to health guidelines during these times. North Paulding High School, a school in Paulding County, Georgia that reopened in early August with a mask-optional policy, recently reported that nine staff members and students contracted COVID-19 after photos and videos of crowded hallways within the school gained viral attention on social media. In a statement made by Children's Colorado, a children's' hospital based in the state, the organization warns that the, "Colorado School of Public Health Modeling (utilizing existing data and mathematical formula) shows that unless Coloradans maintains 60% social distancing, state COVID-19 cases will peak in the fall, which would devastate affected communities, including school reopening plans".

By now, we all know that the CDC recommends utilizing "social distancing" (AKA maintaining six feet of distance, or two arm lengths away from anyone who is not a member of your household) along with other preventative measures.

The article, which contains advice on preparing for the phased re-opening of schools goes on to advise, "While 6 feet is shown to be effective, it is not always possible. In these situations, achieving 5 feet of distancing is still better than 4 feet, and 4 feet is better than 3 feet, et cetera. Even 3 feet of physical distancing between students has been used successfully in some countries. Generally, everyone should have as much space around them for as much of the day as possible".

In order to maintain a safe distance (including for OTHERS, not just yourself), try not to mingle with your friends in the hallways. This has the potential of not only being unsafe for you, but also "clogging" the hallways and creating and unsafe environment for everyone. Rest assured, many schools across the country have guaranteed that students will have plenty of opportunities to socialize (safely), and these precautions are just another way YOU are helping to conquer the virus. So (to remind you to stay emotionally positive and physically distanced), take heed of a famous, little blue fishes words, and—"Just keep swimming!".

12) Limit the Amount of Dense School Events You Attend

This corresponds to what we have discussed about social distancing. Several sports teams have been approved across numerous states to resume practices and competitive games. Several clubs and organizations have also followed suit. But again, this doesn't mean you should blindly participate in or attend numerous school-sponsored events. You should first take your safety and health, and the safety and health of others, into account. The CDC offers a list of considerations when it comes to events and/or big social gatherings. In the list of considerations, the organization states, "The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading". The article also ranks the lowest and highest probability of spread exposure when it comes to social gatherings, listing "Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area", a category in which many school-hosted events could fit into.

At the end of the day, make sure you are examining the proper considerations before attending a school event, and (if you should choose to attend) that you are taking the proper precautions. Make sure you are listening to advice and guidelines from your state, nation, school, teachers, and your own moral compass.

13) If Attending College, Ask About De-Densifying Tactics

Returning to college has become a hot topic this fall amidst the continuing outbreak of COVID-19. As of August, "at least 36 states have reported positive cases at colleges and universities, adding more than 8,700 cases to the country's tally". Since the start of in-person session on August 19th 2020, the University of Alabama has reported that at least 1,200 students contracted the virus; the University of Dayton has reverted to online learning after reporting at least 264 cases, and Kansas State University reported that at least four of their sororities suffered outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2. According to statistics presented by the Chronicle of Higher Education, approximately 60% of schools are preparing for in-person classes. This is why asking your college/university about "de-densifying techniques" is vital in preparation for returning to or starting in-person higher education.

Several colleges have begun taking measures to ensure students maintain social distancing, including (but not limited to): canceling unnecessary school events, spacing out in-person classes for individuals, putting up temporary walls between dorm rooms to make them single rooms, accepting limited applications, enforcing "isolation rooms", and tracking and dismantling campus parties.

It's a good idea to contact your college or admissions office in preparation for starting in-person classes and ask about concerns you or your family members may have.

14) If Attending College, Keep Family and Friends Updated

Now more than ever, college families (especially parents) will worry about their relative college students.Be sure to keep them updated. Set up times to call or vieochat within your schedule, or text a quick message frequently. Maybe even consider setting up a family group chat to where you can keep everyone "in the loop. As it is a main concern, be sure to keep family members, friends, and parents updated about your health (especially if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19!). It is also worth considering that health-related updates should be a two-way street if you are boarding on campus. If your regular household develops symptoms of SARS-CoV-2, you may want to avoid returning while they recover, or (depending on the situation), you might want make arrangements to get home as soon as possible and care for them.

All of that said, your health is important, and health-related updates are VITAL during these trying times, so be sure to give your family and friends a ring!

15) If Attending College, Set Restrictions for Your Dorm Room

We've talked about the importance of borrowing others' belongings or letting others borrow your personal items and the nature in which COVID spreads (through respiratory droplets). Learning about these cautions is meant to help you avoid being exposed to the virus at school and bringing it into your household. But these precautions should be treated with even more urgency when your home and school are within the same vicinity.

If you are planning to board at your college or university campus this fall, there are measures you can take to ensure your health and safety as well as the health and safety of your roommate (if applicable) and other classmates.

There are a few "ground rules" and boundaries you can implement and compromise on if you are preparing to share a dormitory. Some good examples of "house rules" for a shared dormitory are:

- Neither of you can share or exchange items without wiping them off with disinfectant first

- If an object is frequently touched by both you and your roommate (such as a light switch or door handle), then that item should be disinfected frequently

- No one aside from the two of you can enter the dorm at any time. No guests.

- If you share a bathroom, keep your hygiene supplies and other personal items in a tote to avoid contact with surfaces

- If one of you is feeling "under the weather", the other is the first to know!

Regardless of if you have a roommate, there are still boundaries you can set for your "home away from home", and likely they will be similar to (if not the same as) the limits that you would set if you were sharing a room. When your home is on the same grounds as your school, precautions measures should heighten.

For more tips on dorm rooms and boarding on campus, check out the CDC's article on Living in Shared Housing.

16) If Attending College, Have a "Quarantine Bag" Ready to Go

An article from Baton Rouge General, a hospital in Louisiana that works in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, recently published an article with some insightful advice for college students and their families: If you intend to live on campus, pack a "go" (or "quarantine bag"). With the continuing threat of the pandemic, many universities are preparing for the possibility that students may be exposed to SARS-CoV2 by setting up designated isolated areas should a student be unable to return home and self-quarantine for two weeks (or in the case that a student does not want to return home out of fear of exposing their family). Baton Rouge General states that the bag—which can be a duffel bag, old backpack, or another adequately-large bag—is meant to be stored in the student's dorm room as "an emergency COVID-19 bag in case they test positive and have to quarantine".

Many parents have taken the spectacular suggestion and provided their own ideas for what to pack. Some common and useful items include: at least two changes of comfy clothes, hygiene essentials, Clorox wipes, chargers for all electronics, several changes of paper masks and rubber gloves, and a thermometer and over-the-counter relieving medication. Several anxious mothers with college-bound kids have written articles (especially on blogs) about what to pack in a "quarantine bag". Mary Dell Harrington, an accomplished and seasoned writer, wrote such an article for Grown&Flown (a blog with an eponymous book meant to help families through the trials of parenting, teenage years, and an "empty nest") in which she includes a comprehensive and detailed list of things that college students may find useful for a "quarantine bag".

So, when packing for college, take a few minutes to grab an old duffel bag or backpack and pack a few essentials. It never hurts to be prepared, especially this year.

17) Stay Home if You Run a Temperature of 100.4 or Higher

In a checklist made for Planning for In-Person Classes, the CDC recommends that students stay at home or in their dorm if they are running a temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher. That is because the organization lists a fever of 100.4° F or higher on their list of "Symptoms for Reportable Illness".

It is important to note that a detectable fever does not automatically mean you have COVID-19, and there is a list of other symptoms when it comes to diagnosing someone with the novel Coronavirus. Nonetheless, the CDC recommends staying home if you are running a fever or feeling feverish for at least 24 hours. If the fever does not break or other symptoms develop, speak with a healthcare professional and consider taking a Coronavirus test or self-quarantining from that point.

18) Self-Quarantine if You or Someone You Have Come in Contact With Develop Symptoms

By now, we should all be familiar with 'self-quarantining'. But who should do it and when? Well, firstly, we have to define the difference between quarantine and isolation. In an article published by the CDC entitled ' When to Quarantine ', quarantine that 'keeps someone who might have been exposed to the virus away from others'. Isolation is the reverse in that it is meant to serve as a state or period that "keeps someone who is infected with the virus away from others, even in their home".

As it turns out, the concept of quarantine has existed since the Middle Ages in the 14th Century. When ships arrived from Venice, they were required to sit anchored in the sea for at least 40 days. The word quarantine actually derives from the Italian words quaranta and giorni, which mean 40 days.

So now that we know quarantine is not a new concept, what does it look like modernly in the context of COVID-19? Who quarantines? When do we quarantine? How long do we quarantine for? And when do we isolate ourselves? Well, thankfully we don't have to quarantine for 40 days like the passengers on the ships from Venice. The CDC recommends that—if you come into contact with someone who was later diagnosed with COVID-19, or you yourself have been diagnosed with the virus—you quarantine for at least two weeks (unless symptoms persist, in which case you may need to consider lengthening your seclusion).

So why is the separation between quarantine and isolation important? Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when many states and countries releasing 'stay-at-home' orders requiring families to self-quarantine? Quarantine is a bit more relaxed than isolation in that you MAY have been exposed to SARS-CoV2. You are still allowed to move about with your relatives within your own household. Again, returning to the subject of the Middle Ages: Do you think the passengers from Venice sat around on their ships for 40 days, or do you think they milled around? Quarantine is meant as a safety precaution, especially with the possibility of people being asymptomatic when they contract COVID-19. Isolation, on the other hand, is meant to be carried out when you HAVE COVID-19. Isolation is more along the lines of seclusion. It is meant to keep YOU from spreading the disease you were CONFIRMED to have to other people, including members of your household, This is meant to reduce the spread as much as possible (after all, you may need someone to look after you, or you may still live with your parents. Eventually, they will have to leave the house for essential reasons like groceries. In order for that, you will need at least ONE healthy person in your household). So isolation is meant to contain confirmed contamination, whereas quarantine is meant to contain possible contamination.

Isolation and quarantine are two historically-proven methods of helping to "protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease", so if the situation arises where you or some you love must quarantine or isolate, make sure you do so properly. The CDC has plenty of articles on its website relating to quarantining and isolating. One even highlights specific scenarios in which quarantining may be applicable and answer questions concerning both principles.

19) Don't Worry if You Fell Behind During Quarantine

Students falling behind academically has been a concern ever since the pandemic became widespread and distance-learning tactics were implemented. Concerns have arisen (and in some cases been proven) that students will not receive an adequate or comprehensive education if schools continue to fully or partially teach online. But there is also the looming threat that if school reopen this fall, they may be disadvantaged due budget cuts made as a result of the economic recession (which could further deprive children of a good education). In a New York Times article written in June, Dana Goldstein (journalist and author of The Teacher Wars) writes that "New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains".

Missing face-to-face instruction will almost certainly, undoubtedly have an impact on students. But you shouldn't be concerned if you have found yourself falling behind in recent months. After all, hundreds of thousands of students' educations were disrupted due to COVID-19. You are not alone, and teachers and researchers are very aware of the prospect of students being depleted scholarly, and they are not negligent of that fact. McKinsey & Company, a US-based management consulting firm founded in 1926 by University of Chicago Professor James O. McKinsey, released a report in June in which they predicted that if schools reopen fully by January 2021, the average student will loose up to 3-4 months worth of learning even if they use substantial remote learning through the fall and winter months of 2020.

No one expects only a certain type of student to be affected by the loss of face-to-face instruction; researchers continue to be broad when they submit their research, statistics, and reports. YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE. Researchers are also not submitting their predictions without offering potential solutions. There are several resources available for students who may find themselves struggling or falling behind. Care.com has recently released a comprehensive list for The 12 Best Online Tutoring Services for 2020. These services range in price options from hourly fees to free trials to pay-as-you-go.

The main thing to remember is to not get discouraged. Again, everyone's education was disrupted due to COVID-19. Just as schools adapted for the pandemic, they will also adapt for students who have fallen behind (many colleges/universities, including Harvard (!) have even begun to make submitting ACT/SAT scores in applications optional)

20) Don't Be Afraid of Developing New Study Tactics

It's clear that we have had to adapt to several circumstances and change certain aspects of our lives due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Obviously, for students, one of those things is how they study. More than likely, anyone pursuing an education, has not been in a physical, full-time classroom setting for over four months. Things have changed. Due to the from physical to online learning, many may have adapted new study habits, tactics, and routines. This isn't something that should be unlearned, however. In fact, as mentioned above, many students have been depleted academically during stay-at-home orders and distance learning. Upon returning to the classroom, they may need to pay closer attention and therefore may need to embrace new study or note-taking tactics. This should absolutely be encouraged! If you have embraced new study methods over the course of the pandemic, or if you develop new ones when returning to the classroom, do not retrogress or shy away from them! Whatever helps you accomplish your studies successfully, do it!

The University of Michigan even released a brochure on Adjusting Your Study Habits During COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic.

21) Be Honest About Your Fears

Returning to school during a normal school year can already be stressful enough, but going back to school during a pandemic is an unfamiliar and bizarre sort of stress that we have never seen before. But that is okay because none of us (students, parents, teachers, friends) are alone in our concerns! Anxiety has become a very popular and complex problem during the SARS-Cov2 Pandemic (so popular that some people on social media coined the terms #Coronaphobia and #CornoaParanoia to describe their relentless anxiety). In some senses, it is good to be anxious about infectious diseases. Anxieties can be seen, sometimes, as our bodies natural response to potential danger. In the case of COVID-19, such anxieties can keep us healthy. But that is when anxiety is justified and reasonable. Paranoia is a different story.

The Conversation suggests a list of symptoms that may give insight into whether or not your #Coronaphobia / #CoronaParanoia has become debilitating.Here are some signs:

. "Your fears are out of proportion to the actual danger (for instance, you’re young with no underlying health issues but wear a mask and gloves to the park for your daily exercise where it’s easy to social distance)."

. 'The fear and anxiety is intense and persistent (lasting weeks to months)."

. "It’s hard to stop worrying about coronavirus."

. "You’re actively avoiding situations (for instance, places, people, activities) even when they’re safe."

. "You’re spending a lot of your time monitoring your body for signs and symptoms, or searching the internet about the virus."

. "You’ve become overly obsessive about cleaning, washing, and decontaminating."

If your fears and paranoia relating to SARS-CoV2 seem to become overwhelming or debilitating, try speaking with someone such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or licensed therapist. As mentioned before, going back to school during a worldwide outbreak of an infectious disease is already incredibly stressful. Try not to put more strain on yourself by allowing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to become pent-up. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be honest. If you need more advice for coping with your concerns relating to COVID-19, try taking a look at Ohio State Univeristy's Wexner Medical Center's article 10 Practical Ways to Ease Your Fears About Coronavirus.

22) Eat Nutritiously

While many of us may not be able to say with honesty that we did not binge eat during stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, emphasis on healthy eating may actually be beneficial during COVID-19 "reign". While there are no firm scientific studies siting healthy eating as a measure for preventing contraction of COVID-19. But what we DO know is that eating healthy never hurts. In fact, in an article published in April entitled Helpful Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System and Fight off Disease, Harvard Health lists eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as one of many healthy ways to strengthen your immune system. We ALSO know that COVID-19 has the potential to attack one's immune system. A New York Times article written by Gina Kolata (a science and medical journalist with degrees form M.I.T and the University of Maryland) even boldly proclaims that "in a disturbing parallel to H.I.V., the coronavirus can cause a depletion of important immune cells, recent studies found".

As the Samaritan Health Services puts it, "While there are no medications, supplements or vaccines to prevent or cure the coronavirus at this time, keeping our immune system, the body’s first defense against infection, in tip-top shape is a good practice, pandemic or not".

So is eating healthily a proven preventative for COVID-19? No. But does it keep our immune systems strong and rearing to fight? YES.

23) Take Up Relaxing Activities Such as Yoga and Meditation, And Take Care of Yourself

We've focused a lot on precautions to take and preparations to make when it comes to returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is one more important detail....YOU! In all of this chaos, your mental and physical-wellbeing MATTER! And no doubt, both factors will be tested as you return to in-person instruction. Things can (and more-than-likely WILL, at some point) become overwhelming for you mentally, physically, or emotionally. If this becomes the case...take a break! Try doing something to relax your mind, body, and spirit, such as a hobby or activity you enjoy. You can even try preparing an "escape" ahead of time, such as yoga, meditation, or listening to music and reading. Whatever helps you re-charge and relax! The most imperative thing you can remember is this: Your mental, physical, and emotional health is ESSENTIAL and it should not be spared! So cherish it!

Thank you for reading, and good luck to all the students returning to school this year! May your transition be as smooth as possible, may you adapt well, and may you have the best experience possible! Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong!


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Gracelyn Mitchell

Gracelyn Mitchell is a high school senior from Alabama. She is a 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Alumna, feminist, LGBTQ+ ally, advocate, and sci-fi/fantasy writer (who also likes to dabble in journalism). She runs her own writing blog and is very passionate about literature, academics, food, yoga, and tennis (which she started playing in her junior year).

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