Health officials warn of community spread risk as college students travel home for holidays

Posted at 6:16 PM, Nov 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 18:16:38-05

TAMPA, Fla. — When college students leave campus for Thanksgiving break, there’s a risk of bringing COVID-19 home with them. Public health officials have a few suggestions for travelers if you plan to go home for the holidays.

USF student Alanis Torres says her family is planning a scaled-back celebration.

“We just decided to only really do mom, dad, me, not really grandma or anything,” said Torres. “We don’t really want to get them possibly having infection or anything like that. We just decided to keep it small and maybe do a Zoom call or something.”

The CDC reminds people traveling increases your chance of getting and spreading the virus. USF Health professor Dr. Jay Wolfson suggests if you’re going to travel, travel carefully.

“You don’t want to take something you picked up in an airport and give it to your grandfather in Omaha, Nebraska,” said Wolfson.

Dr. Wolfson pointed to the risk of community spread as students travel to or from the Tampa Bay area. If you do plan to head out of town, Wolfson recommends getting a COVID test a week before you leave and to start distancing yourself now.

The CDC recommends wearing a mask, washing your hands, and staying at least 6 feet apart from other people during your trip if you decide to travel. If you celebrate the holiday, Dr. Wolfson says the risk of transmission is lower outdoors.

“Once you bring it indoors into anybody’s home and you got 5, 10, 20 people inside, you’re running the risk of spreading something,” said Wolfson. “Since 40 percent are asymptomatic, somebody in that room is likely going to have it, and all you need is one case.”

ABC Action News reached out to universities in the Bay area to see what protocols they have for the break. USF said it is transitioning all classes online following the holiday break.

In a note to staff and students, the university said, “students who plan to remain at USF until the end of the fall semester are strongly encouraged to avoid travel and large gatherings over Thanksgiving break.”

The University of Tampa says it is not requiring testing before a student heads home, and they are going fully remote after Thanksgiving. The university has been doing a campaign to ask students to lay low before heading home.

Students like Torres hope their fellow classmates follow simple suggestions to help fight the spread.

“Remember, this is real,” said Torres. “We all want to go back to school, and the more that we’re able to isolate ourselves, the sooner we can get over this already.”