Sofia Pelaez, 21, left her Texas A&M University, San Antonio, campus three weeks earlier than planned to travel to her home in League City, Tex., because cases in her dorm were on the rise, but she worried about putting her mother, who has high blood pressure, at risk. “I feel like if something would happen to her, it would be my fault,” said Ms. Pelaez, who is studying psychology and child development.
She did her best to minimize contacts at school, and was tested two days before leaving campus. On the four-hour bus ride home she wore a mask and wiped down her seat. (Fortunately, the bus company kept the seat near her empty.) She even changed her clothes at the bus station after she arrived.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Words to Know About Testing
Confused by the terms about coronavirus testing? Let us help:
- Antibody: A protein produced by the immune system that can recognize and attach precisely to specific kinds of viruses, bacteria, or other invaders.
- Antibody test/serology test: A test that detects antibodies specific to the coronavirus. Antibodies begin to appear in the blood about a week after the coronavirus has infected the body. Because antibodies take so long to develop, an antibody test can’t reliably diagnose an ongoing infection. But it can identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus in the past.
- Antigen test: This test detects bits of coronavirus proteins called antigens. Antigen tests are fast, taking as little as five minutes, but are less accurate than tests that detect genetic material from the virus.
- Coronavirus: Any virus that belongs to the Orthocoronavirinae family of viruses. The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is known as SARS-CoV-2.
- Covid-19: The disease caused by the new coronavirus. The name is short for coronavirus disease 2019.
- Isolation and quarantine: Isolation is the separation of people who know they are sick with a contagious disease from those who are not sick. Quarantine refers to restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to a virus.
- Nasopharyngeal swab: A long, flexible stick, tipped with a soft swab, that is inserted deep into the nose to get samples from the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat. Samples for coronavirus tests can also be collected with swabs that do not go as deep into the nose — sometimes called nasal swabs — or oral or throat swabs.
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): Scientists use PCR to make millions of copies of genetic material in a sample. Tests that use PCR enable researchers to detect the coronavirus even when it is scarce.
- Viral load: The amount of virus in a person’s body. In people infected by the coronavirus, the viral load may peak before they start to show symptoms, if symptoms appear at all.
She got tested again in League City and wore a mask at home until she got the negative results. “I am not too worried about getting my mom sick because I know I am taking the right precautions,” she said. “I keep a mask with me 24-7. It’s like wearing shoes.”
We have students coming home from different colleges. Can they quarantine together?
If possible, siblings returning home from different campuses should isolate in separate rooms rather than staying together, particularly if they haven’t been tested. You don’t want one infected student exposing a sibling who didn’t bring the virus home.
Cathy Neumann, who lives in Downers Grove, Ill., has three adult children attending three different schools — Iowa State University, Western Michigan University and Illinois State University. All three students will be tested before returning home, but she knows they may not have the result before they enter the house.
“If one of the kids is positive, we do have the option of them sleeping in our camper on the driveway, or we have enough hotel points to book a hotel room for them,” Ms. Neumann said. “We haven’t really talked about that though. The boys also live in a house off campus, so if they’re positive we could also say, ‘Nope, you can’t come home.’ But I will seriously cry for days if that happens.”
What can I do to lower risks during the holiday meal?
The safest plan is to move your holiday celebration outdoors. If that’s not possible, open windows and turn on exhaust fans. Give college students their own serving spoons and have them keep some distance during the meal.