College students will be arriving home for Thanksgiving next week, and many will be staying in New Jersey with their parents for the rest of the semester, taking classes virtually.

Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert and assistant professor at the Rutgers University Medical School, is recommending families take certain precautions to try and mitigate possible health risks related to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

He said before a college student arrives home, a family conversation needs to take place, focusing on known risks at the college or university, virus activity in the state where the school is located, and what the student has been doing at school.

Were they “basically keeping physical distance, wearing a mask, etc., or were they out partying or was it somewhere in between, and there is some amount of risk?" Cennimo said.

He stressed the conversation needs to be honest and frank, “because we will not be able to estimate the risk without that level of conversation.”

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In other words, students must tell the truth about what they’ve been doing at school.

“You may not want to tell mom or dad about your partying, but if you’re going to go visit your great grandparents, we really need to know how much risk you’re at,” he said.

Cennimo pointed out many teens and 20-somethings may have the virus and be totally asymptomatic.

“Maybe this isn’t the holiday you go visit your great grandparents or grandparents,” he said.

Cennimo said one option for parents is to order their children to stay in the basement for a 14-day quarantine when they arrive home — but for most families that’s difficult and unrealistic.

He saod if there is an agreement reached to quarantine, you need to determine “is your student not leaving the basement for those 14 days, because if they are going out, socializing with friends, that’s truly not a quarantine.”

Dr. Cennimo said a more viable option might be to have the student in the house with the parents, with everyone following a few simple guidelines.

“Maybe everybody doesn’t’ sit on the same couch to watch football,” he said. "You can wear a facemask watching football, and that’s okay.”

He also pointed out a negative test right after a college student returns doesn't necessarily mean anything — it can take several days after an exposure before a patient registers the virus on a test.

“You could have been infected on the plane and were in that latency period, and you may not become ill for the next 14 days,” Cennimo said.

He said this means even if someone tests negative they should still follow social distance and masking precautions.

“People should be thinking this out,” he said, “Because families need to make their plans.”

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