As the Thanksgiving and winter breaks draw closer, there seems to be something in the air. Perhaps it’s the weather, as breezy fall days mark the end of a long Alabama summer. It could be the excitement of seeing friends and family, including our dearly missed pets, or the nervousness of final exams and looming grades. Maybe it’s the not-so-distant chimes of the holiday season, as people bring out their Christmas sweaters and Mariah Carey soundtracks.
But you know what that something shouldn’t be? COVID-19.
As we pack our bags and dream of roasted turkey, health officials are worried about the spread of COVID-19 during this holiday season, especially by college students returning home. New York recently announced a new travel policy where travelers must provide a negative test result before entering the state. Other states, although lacking official policies, have guidelines that encourage testing and quarantining when returning. Additionally, multiple airlines are requiring a negative test to fly. For airlines that do not require testing, health officials are still urging airplane passengers to do so before boarding their flight. According to a CDC health official, “pre-travel testing would reduce the risk” of spreading COVID-19 to others.
The University has strict guidelines in place for wearing masks and social distancing. Reported cases are fairly low, with 77 positive test results for the week of Nov. 6-12. But there’s always the risk of asymptomatic students bringing COVID-19 with them as they head home.
The real concerns of winter break are not only that students may have the virus, but that they could easily pass it on to their friends, family or community members. The University, like many others, cancelled minor breaks in order to prevent the spread of the virus. But a prolonged winter break raises many valid concerns about students returning to their hometowns.
Luckily, the University has given us a way to alleviate this issue: exit testing. With a glance at one’s schedule and the click of a few buttons, UA students can schedule a free COVID-19 test before leaving campus. But because they aren’t mandated to do so, students could easily ignore this opportunity. Some might dismiss it as something they don’t have time for or brush it off as an unnecessary precaution.
Freshman Alison Brower, a Michigan resident, wants to avoid bringing the virus with her, as case numbers in her home state are already high. Just Sunday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a “three week pause” due to escalating circumstances in the state.
“I don’t want to be another number to potentially shut down the state again,” she said.
Lauren Khoury, a senior who lives-off campus, agrees. She plans to get a test right before she leaves for break.
“[Exit testing] gives me the peace of mind to know that there’s a much lower risk of spreading the virus to susceptible family members,” Khoury said, noting that she felt the University was taking “a step in the right direction” by providing exit testing.
Brandon Pryor, a freshman and New York resident, was required to get a test before returning to his state, but he said he was happy to do it.
“It absolutely makes me feel at least more comfortable heading home,” Pryor said. “The entire testing process didn’t take more than 20 to 30 minutes. I’m definitely glad I got the test because it’s always good to know for a proven fact that you’re healthy.”
While many students don’t need a COVID-19 test to return home, taking the time to get one conveys a sense of consideration and love toward your community. Even if your trip doesn’t require one, getting an exit test will help to prevent our winter break from becoming a superspreading event. If we’re being real, COVID-19 tests aren’t foolproof, and unfortunately they won’t always ensure that a person is negative. But we can still make an effort to slow the spread and protect the people we love.
As you head home for the holidays, please be careful. Get an exit test. Follow CDC guidelines. And whatever you do, try not to surprise your family with the gift of COVID-19.