COVID-19 is Not Slowing Down on College Campuses, New Survey Reports

students wearing mask on campus

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Key Takeaways

  • Cases of coronavirus on college campuses are rapidly rising, with numbers currently reaching over 178,000.
  • Getting the flu shot is imperative this year to help campuses avoid a “twindemic.”
  • Students should try to host outdoor gatherings as long as possible and prioritize their mental and physical health.

There have been 178,000 cases and counting since the COVID-19 pandemic began —most of which were reported after students began returning to campus this fall—across more than 1,400 colleges and universities countrywide, according to a New York Times survey

In early August to early September alone, COVID-19 cases in people aged 18 to 22 years old spiked by 55%, with the rise highest in the northeast and midwest. 

What Are Colleges Doing?

Each college and university is taking its own approach to handling coronavirus spread on campus. Some colleges opted initially for a fully online learning environment whereas others have made the switch amidst rising cases. Other colleges began in-person or with a blended model and are seeing positive results, while others continue to see rising case counts. 

The colleges that Michael Horowitz, PhD, president of the TCS Education System, collaborates with—among them the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Saybrook University, and Pacific Oaks College—are mainly full-time remote with the exception of a few clinical nursing courses. 

“Our strategy on limiting COVID is limiting the number of people [on campuses] in an extreme manner,” Horowitz said. “As I network with colleagues, what's clear is testing is a big part of [limiting COVID-19 spread] and so is the influence of student behavior, which has varied from college to college. It seems like in some colleges, the students have been very serious about social distancing and then others less so.”

Michael Horowitz, PhD

As I network with colleagues, what's clear is testing is a big part of [limiting COVID-19 spread] and so is the influence of student behavior, which has varied from college to college. It seems like in some colleges, the students have been very serious about social distancing and then others less so.

— Michael Horowitz, PhD

With coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down, and flu season ahead, it’s imperative to take additional precautions to try to prevent a “twindemic” on campuses.

Get the Flu Shot

Dillon Rybka, Pharm.D, the interim region director at CVS Health in the Greater Boston area, emphasized that flu shots are the best way to protect yourself and others from contracting the flu. Because flu viruses vary year to year, “new vaccine formulations are developed annually to provide optimal protection against the most commonly-circulating strains of the current flu season,” Rybka said. 

It takes your body up to two weeks to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, so you want to ensure you are vaccinated before an outbreak on your campus happens. The CDC recommends getting your shot by the end of October. 

However, many people opt not to get a flu shot due to misinformation about how they work. 

“The flu vaccine introduces an inactive strain of the flu virus to allow your body to develop antibodies that provide protection against infection,” Rybka said. “Your body recognizes the virus in the vaccine as a foreign invader and produces antibodies that will launch an immune response to kill off the virus the next time you are exposed to the flu in your community. Viruses in the flu shot are not active, so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot.”

While the flu shot does not fully prevent you from getting the flu, Maria Isabel Rosas Garcia, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at KIDZ Medical Services in Naples, FL, said that the flu shot “will prevent you from getting severe illness [from the flu]. This year it's more important than ever to immunize yourself as an influenza and COVID-19 co-infection will likely make you sicker.”

If you’re unsure where or how to get your flu shot while away from home, start by reaching out to your campus’ student health center. Some centers may offer the flu shot there or host on-campus clinics run by local pharmacies. If students have access to transportation, they can get their flu shot directly at a local pharmacy, grocery store clinic, walk-in clinic, and more. 

What This Means For You

“A ‘twindemic’ would be overwhelming for the health system and for colleges, it would mean closures and cancellation of activities. We can avoid one by continuing to encourage physical distancing, mask use, hand washing, and influenza immunization,” Rosas Garcia said.

There is a multitude of preventative measures you can take to help protect yourself and others from both COVID-19 and the flu this fall, such as getting your flu shot and continuing to host gatherings outdoors.

Continue to Host Gatherings Outdoors

Indoor gatherings will likely begin to replace outdoor gatherings as we head into the winter months—leading to a higher risk of airborne transmission—but if you can, try to hold on to the outdoors as long as possible. 

“​Fall is the perfect weather for being outdoors and enjoying nature. As it gets colder towards the end of the year, college campuses should consider areas with outdoor heaters to continue to encourage people to be outside. An upside to the cold weather is that it will make mask use much more tolerable,” Rosas Garcia said. 

Horowitz said that when he visited Norway and Germany pre-pandemic, they still participated in many outdoor activities despite the increasingly cold weather. 

“There I think they say there's no bad weather, there are only bad clothes,” Horowitz recalled. “Restaurants are [also] worried—will people come out as you have to wear more clothes? I mean, I think that's what's indicated, and it's obviously going to be harder in the colder climates. But that's what we have to do.”

Maria Isabel Rosas Garcia, MD

Fall is the perfect weather for being outdoors and enjoying nature. As it gets colder towards the end of the year, college campuses should consider areas with outdoor heaters to continue to encourage people to be outside.

— Maria Isabel Rosas Garcia, MD

The same applies to college campuses. Dress in layers when spending time outdoors and if you do have to move your gatherings inside, aim for large locations that allow for optimal social distancing. 

And of course, make sure you are familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19: cough, shortness of breath, fever, and loss of taste or smell, to name a few. If you are exhibiting any potential symptoms of COVID-19, or the flu, or are not feeling well in general, stay home. Contact your student health center and make an appointment to get tested.

Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health

Take time to engage in self-care this semester. Try turning off social media notifications for a weekend, baking delicious treats with your roommates (there’s a lot you can do with just a microwave), or spending time with your friends without discussing homework or coronavirus, be it virtually or socially-distanced in person. 

“I think staying connected to other people … is very important,” Horowitz said. “[But] you have to [try to] limit your device time. Sometimes a regular [phone] call can feel even better because you don't have the kind of crazy video intensity.”

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, it may be worth looking into therapy. There are many different online therapy platforms that allow you to talk with a professional via messaging or video calls.

Regularly exercising is also important, as it can have immediate and long-term benefits, including lowering your risk of anxiety and depression, improving your sleep, and keeping certain cognitive skills sharp. Obesity is also a known risk factor for coronavirus. Carve out time in your day for physical activity, such as going for a walk on campus, practicing yoga, or joining online workout classes.

Regardless of which ways you choose to engage in self-care, it’s imperative to look after your overall well-being. Remember to wash your hands often, socially distance yourself from others, and watch out for potential symptoms of COVID-19.

“Even if you are asymptomatic you can still spread the disease to other people that are more vulnerable," Rosas Garcia said. "During COVID times it's all about taking care of yourself and others."

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Article Sources
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