Doctor: Traveling college students could unknowingly bring virus home for Thanksgiving


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Heading home for Thanksgiving is usually an exciting time for college students, but a local health care leader says it could cause significant problems this year.

As students return to Rhode Island, it increases the potential for more coronavirus infections at a time when the state is already reporting record-high numbers.

Dr. Otis Warren, the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians’ Rhode Island chapter, said many young adults are asymptomatic and have a high rate of infection, which he called a “huge concern” as students start traveling across the country for the holiday.

Neighboring states like Connecticut are imposing restrictions on traveling college students, such as requiring that they quarantine before and after coming home and asking that they get tested before leaving and avoid homecoming reunions.

“Quarantining is something that is very easy to say and it’s very hard to do,” Warren said.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo previously said she is working with nearby states on a regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions. She’s expected to announce specific guidelines for Thanksgiving during her briefing on Thursday.

According to Dr. James McDonald, medical director at the R.I. Department of Health, it’s what students do once they’re home that’s most important.

“You don’t want to get together with all your friends you left from high school,” he said. “That should be something you’re like, ‘I have to be careful and keep my bubble small at this point,’ because the pandemic isn’t the same pandemic you left when you went to college. The pandemic got much worse.”

The University of Rhode Island is encouraging students to get tested before holiday break. On Wednesday, the school announced it’s shifting classes online beginning on Monday, Nov. 23, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Providence College did the same earlier this week, and is also asking its students to provide a negative test when they return to campus.

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