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Health & Safety

Spring Break and the Coronavirus — What You Need to Know

Marybeth Bock, MPH

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Spring break travel season in the U.S. has arrived, and as we are all aware, it is coinciding with the global spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

As many of our kids are planning travel, both at home and abroad, we as parents are naturally concerned about their risks of getting sick, and of perhaps getting stuck in a foreign country should a quarantine occur.

Here are five important things to consider and keep in mind.

1. Be sure your student is receiving updated information from their school.

Many colleges send school-wide communications to parents, but your child may be getting program-specific updates about trips that are sponsored by their school. If they are at all unsure about impending travel, they need to reach out to program coordinators and advisors.

2. Stay up to date on travel restrictions.

Your family can stay up to date by accessing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notices here. This is what the differing risk assessment levels mean:

  • Warning Level 3: CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices because of the risk of getting COVID-19.
  • Alert Level 2: Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, people in these groups should talk to a healthcare provider and consider postponing travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices.
  • Watch Level 1: CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also has a helpful site with resources for precautions and health guidelines to follow, and Johns Hopkins University has created a global coronavirus tracker that is updated frequently and that you can access here.

3. Reduce your risk of infection.

If your student will be traveling by air, remember that the risk of infection on an airplane is low. But travelers should try to avoid contact with passengers who look or sound sick, and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds OR use a hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol.

Remember that face masks are not necessary unless the person wearing them is sick and is preventing the spread of droplets from their own sneezing or coughing.

4. Help prevent "community spread."

Whether your student is traveling far from home or not during their spring break, this is a great time to talk more about preventing “community spread” of any kind of virus. Students of any age should never share cups, bottles, bites of food, or any device that goes into someone’s mouth, nose or eyes.

And it is still not too late to get a flu shot!

5.  Create a back-up plan.

Make sure your student has a solid back-up plan in case of any kind of disruption to their travel. Conditions can change rapidly in a country at any time. To receive updated Travel Advisories and Alerts from the U.S. State Department, you can view your options here.

Be sure students are traveling with extras of any medication they normally take, along with a cold and flu medication, and a fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Hand wipes and/or sanitizers are always recommended, of course, along with wiping down commonly used surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, hair dryers, remote controls) in hotels and rental properties. Everyone should use their knuckle and not a fingertip to press elevator buttons or screens that are in public places.

The good news about COVID-19 is that young adults without underlying health conditions are at very low risk of severe complications should they actually become infected with the virus.

As parents, we need to model taking smart and practical precautions, and not become panicked or pass along information that is not verified by infectious disease professionals. When it comes to our kids traveling without us, each family needs to balance the recommendations from schools and government agencies with their own peace of mind.

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Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adult students and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. Marybeth has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a master's in public health from San Jose State University. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing. You can find her work on multiple parenting sites and in two books.
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