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"What If" COVID Planning for On-Campus College Students

Guest Contributor


Every day seems to bring a fresh news report concerning COVID-19 outbreaks on college campuses. Dorms reopen, then close two weeks later. In-person classes begin, are suspended, then (in some cases) resume.

For all these reasons, it’s a good idea for you and your college student to conduct some basic “what if” planning, if you haven’t already.

According to the most recent data, more than 61,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported on campuses just since late August. Despite indications that healthy young adults are less at risk than older adults and those with medical conditions, the hazard is very real.

You’ve done everything you could to send your student off safely. But you should also be ready in case things don’t go as planned. Your student’s college has developed plans for various situations — you and your student should, too. Here are four ways to get started. 

1. Be Quarantine Ready: Stay Stocked Up on Food and Supplies

Quarantines generally happen very suddenly. While under ordinary circumstances your student may wait until the cupboard is bare to go shopping, now is not the time. Encourage them to stay well-provisioned — on groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies and paper products.

In addition, help your student make sure their electronics are in good working order. If anything needs service, get it fixed immediately. That way, in the event of a quarantine, they'll have enough supplies on hand to buy some time before needing to make other arrangements.

Also, if your student doesn’t already have a good thermometer, get them one, so they can monitor their temperature in between COVID-19 tests.

Find a complete list of quarantine health and comfort items for your student here >

2. Be Knowledgeable: Learn Your School’s COVID Procedures

At this point, it’s safe to assume every institution has an entire website section devoted to its COVID-19 protocols. Encourage your student to become an expert on these now, before they need it. Students should know how often they need to be tested, where to go for testing and health care, and what rules and procedures to follow in the event they or those around them test positive.

In addition, confirm that they're signed up to receive COVID alerts (you may want to sign up for them, too).

Finally, make sure your student knows what mental health resources are available. Sixty-two percent of college students experience anxiety in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

3. Be Protected: Complete Healthcare Power of Attorney and HIPAA Forms

In the unlikely event your student becomes seriously ill, you’ll want legal permission to oversee their healthcare. Having your student complete a Healthcare Power of Attorney form ensures you can make medical decisions on their behalf in the event they can’t. Meanwhile, the HIPAA form will allow healthcare providers to share your student's medical information with you.

Every state has its own legal forms; students should complete the forms for the state where they go to school. Generally, these can be found on each state’s government website (many colleges post them on their websites, too). Both you and your student should maintain print and digital copies of the signed forms in case they’re needed.

Learn more and find links to download important health forms here >

4. Be Agile: Have an Exit Plan

If your student’s dorm is shut down due to COVID-019, do they know where they'll go? While some students can hop in their cars and drive home, others will need to scramble to make arrangements.

Work this out now — will you be in a position to safely pick them up? Will they be able to catch a plane or train at short notice? Where does COVID testing fit in?

In addition to making an exit plan, encourage your student to make a list of everything they’ll need to pack, lest something important be left behind in a panic. Furthermore, monitor your state’s restrictions regarding people coming in from out-of-state. In some states, students may need to prepare to quarantine when they come and go.

In summary, there is no question that we are living through unprecedented times. Although this is not the normal college experience we want for our children, take comfort in the fact that they are learning some unexpected life lessons that should serve them in good stead later on in life.

As the pandemic continues, encourage your student to stay flexible, be proactive and always have a game plan in their back pocket. When it comes to COVID-19, it’s wise to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Also by Teri Dreher, RN, CCM: How a Patient Advocate Can Assist Your Student with Medical Issues in College
Teri Dreher, RN, CCM is a Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA). A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the Chicago area’s largest advocacy company and Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services, a not-for-profit that serves Chicago’s “senior orphans.” She is author of “Patient Advocacy Matters.”
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