That was fast. Fourteen days into our first-born’s college career, she finds herself 2,500 miles away and completely alone. Covid-19 hit her dormitory floor. She’s now quarantined in an on-campus hotel room, living within four walls for nearly two weeks. We are not surprised. Sending your teen to college in the middle of a global pandemic is an emotional and physical game of “what if” and we landed on the first dreaded scenario, our daughter was exposed to Covid-19 and is possibly infected.
We thought a Covid outbreak at our daughter’s college was inevitable
While the university took appropriate precautions; mandatory masks, online and hybrid classes only, restricted dining hall, no large groups or social events, this is a virulent virus, and coupled with the college population, the inevitable occurred.
College campuses across the U.S. are suddenly faced with implementing their quarantine and isolation plans. Should your family land in a similar situation, perhaps these tips can assist in guiding you through these very complicated and unprecedented times.
How parents can help if your student is exposed to Covid and has to quarantine
Parents: Stay in the moment. Your mind will naturally fast forward to the worst-case scenario. It will also lurch backward and question the sanity of sending your child into this situation. Reality: that “child” is 18, and therefore an adult. In our case, for four years our daughter methodically worked, prepared, and hoped to be heading across the country to college in the fall of 2020.
As a family, we decided the emotional and mental health benefits of attending said college were strong enough to let her enroll and move away from home. Encourage your teen to stay in the moment as well. They will naturally compare and contrast their monotonous quarantine life with that of their non-impacted friends on their own campus and elsewhere. This can be the hardest part of the first hours of quarantine. Accepting their situation will help them embrace it more quickly.
2. Healthcare Help
Questions came hard and fast from our freshman. Where do I get a test? Do I need a test, as I know I’ve already been exposed? Does insurance cover the test? Why is the next available test appointment in a week? All good questions, ones that were ultimately best navigated by her, as we are thousands of miles away. Talk about growing up fast.
It was her college’s daily mandatory check-in app that was the catalyst for quarantine. She checked the box that said she had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. Three hours later she was shuttled to the campus hotel. I recommend discussing the very real possibility that a Covid-19 quarantine or isolation may occur for your college student, as well as the steps he or she will need to take to ensure their health and safety.
3. Technology is Your Friend
FaceTime lets us see our daughter in the technical flesh so to speak, and vice versa. This was crucial in the first confusing hours of navigating her next steps after Covid-exposure. Throughout quarantine; morning text check-ins and nightly FaceTime calls help us stay connected. Of course, I’m looking for signs of illness and asking questions like “How’s your breathing? Any weird symptoms? How’s your roommate (also quarantined in a separate room) doing?”
As for our daughter, she sends “a daily food vlog” as she coined it, and proceeds to rate the Thai chicken salad, breakfast sandwich, or whatever meal is placed outside her door. I have often yearned for the days of landlines and no social media, but I’m beyond grateful for technology right now.
4. Control What You Can
Our daughter, a high school track and cross-country athlete, was accustomed to logging many miles. Chances are, she won’t be running laps in a hotel room where the windows can’t even open. Pivoting is crucial. She needed a way to get her heart rate and exercise endorphins up, so she relied on doing arm and abdominal exercises in her newfound home.
Creativity is key in quarantine. Your college student can’t control the fact that they’re sequestered to a tiny room, but they can control what they do with their time and energy. Getting good sleep, eating healthy meals, and taking advantage of ample study and free time (now they can watch all those 90’s moves you rave about) can help productively pass the time.
Ditto for you at home. Control what you can and toss the rest. No amount of doom scrolling and googling things like “will there be a vaccine in 2020?” will alter this situation.
5. Perspective and Gratitude
Embrace the big picture. Nothing lasts forever; contrary to how endless and hopeless being stuck in quarantine feels. Parents will need to repeat these words often “This will not last forever, this will not last forever.”
Coincidentally or perhaps ironically, during my daughter’s quarantine, I interviewed a U.S. World War II veteran. When he was 18, he stormed Utah Beach on D-Day. His words regarding wartime struck me: “At one point we had no food, no water, no bathrooms and slept in fields.” That certainly put our 18-year-old’s situation in perspective. Life could always be worse. A whole lot worse.
Finally, quarantine encourages our freshman to appreciate the basic elements of life: the ability to open a window, be outdoors, walk on the sidewalk, and see other humans. That, in itself, is a gift. I think she will see it too, as soon as she’s out of quarantine. Hold on, parents and students, this may be a scene that repeats itself throughout the school year until an effective vaccine is readily available.
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