Spring break is here, the sun is shining and students are ready to mix and mingle.
The spread of COVID-19 is still underway, even though vaccinations have been developed and are being distributed, and people are still practicing social distancing. But that doesn't guarantee that this year's spring break will be back to normal.
Spring break is the only short holiday before spring term that students have for vacation or relaxation. It can give a nice break from stressful college courses to decompress in the midst of back-to-back ten-week terms.
But how can we enjoy spring break and go back to campus in a healthy condition so that we keep the Oregon State University community safe if COVID-19 concerns are still widespread?
What We’ve Learned from The Last Spring Break in 2020
Our first transition into social distancing and stay-at-home orders came before spring break in 2020, meaning many of us had to forgo being outside soaking up the sun, hanging out with friends, and doing regular outdoor activities. Many have their lives turned upside down as the impact of COVID-19.
Lucas Phillips, a second-year student studying fermentation science at OSU, said he hopes this year will be toned back a little bit. He thinks we as a country did a poor job of keeping ourselves quarantined while the novel coronavirus was tearing through the country at an astronomical rate.
Phillips personally won't be doing any events that require a lot of people. Phillips hopes that others will sense urgency in this issue and, in an attempt to combat this disease, will keep it pretty tame as well.
Obey Health and Safety Guidelines
Wherever you are planning to spend your spring break, it is important to always follow health and safety guidelines.
According to the Center for Disease Control, travelers should stay away from the crowds, keep masks on, stay six feet away from each other, avoid touching surfaces then touching one’s face, wash hands frequently and possibly receive the COVID-19 vaccinations. Please note that some destinations require mandatory quarantines upon arrival. When taking public transport, remember to comply with travel precautions.
“Avoid alcohol or other substances since we often let our guards down when under influence,” said Jeffrey Mull, a medical director of Student Health Services at OSU, via email.
“As far as precautions are concerned, I’m fully aware and take responsibility to do my part to prevent me from spreading the disease or contracting it in any way when I’m taking a plane to Virginia to visit my girlfriend for the Spring Break, as well as to keep those around me that I will and may come in contact with safe,” Phillips said.
Think of a Safe Holiday Destination
Pick a holiday spot with events that require less contact with other people in order to help reduce the spread of the virus. The CDC has indicated that it is important to review the spread rates of COVID-19 in cities where you plan to travel. Certain holiday spots with high rates of COVID-19 can place you and your family, as well as friends, at high risk.
“Keep in mind that some states and most countries will require a negative PCR COVID test within 72 hours of travel,” Mull said. “If you have had a COVID infection within the 90 days prior to travel instead of a recent test, you will likely need a copy of your positive test showing your name and birth date and the type of test (PCR vs Antigen) that was done. Some require a note from a medical provider confirming the recent infection.”
Mull also provided guidelines for how to plan safe international travel.
“Check the COVID page for states or Embassy or Consulate web pages for other countries and follow directions closely to avoid being turned away or made to quarantine when you arrive,” Mull said. ”If traveling to another country, the CDC now requires that you go through a similar process when returning to the U.S. [with] either a negative COVID test within 72 hours of return or confirmation of infection within the past 90 days. If needing a test prior to return, explore where testing is available in the destination country prior to leaving the U.S.”
Choose and Wear the Right Mask
According to the CDC, when everybody wears masks, it is much safer for us and others, increasing protection by 90%. But not all masks provide the same coverage.
When picking a mask, see how well it fits and how many layers it has. The CDC recommends making sure the mask sits securely against your face to prevent air with nasal droplets from leaking in and out of the sides of the mask.
For example, a mask with a nose wire and a fitter, or a brace over a reusable mask or fabric mask is preferred. It is also better to double the layers of your mask. Be sure to carry extra masks and sanitizing products while on vacation to minimize exposure to germs.
“Consider double masking, avoid crowded or confined places, wash hands frequently. Don’t share drinking glasses or smoking devices,” Mull said. “Monitor closely for symptoms and get tested if possible. Keep in mind that young adults with COVID often have very mild symptoms like stuffy nose or mild sore throat that only last for a day or two. Many have no symptoms at all.”
Keep Your Mind Clear and Healthy
COVID-19 has had a mental effect on many communities. The stay-at-home period has made some of us feel alone, isolated, increasing our tension and anxiety, and even depression.
According to the CDC morbidity and mortality weekly report in 2020, 40.9% of respondents reported having anxiety disorder, about 30.9% reported having depressive disorder and about 26.3% reported having symptoms of pandemic-related trauma and stress disorder (TSRD). Approximately 13.3% have begun or expanded drug usage to deal with COVID-19 stress or emotions. Additionally, 10.7% of respondents reported having contemplated suicide throughout the 30 days prior to the completion of the survey and results were substantially higher among 25.5% of respondents aged 18 to 24 years old.
Some of us as students have struggled to keep our mind clear and to stay focused while taking classes.
“Life as a student this Winter term has been excruciatingly hard. Some if not all of my classes were never designed to be taught online and as such, I'm wasting an incredible amount of money for content that could be taught to me via someone on Youtube,” Phillips said.
“The credit I've earned this year has been about chasing points and meeting deadlines, not learning the material at hand. I’ll really enjoy the break and I don’t think I’ll need much to keep myself entertained and mentally healthy. I’ll be in good company and away from my number one stressor.”
Spring break is an opportunity for students to cope with stress and hopefully return for the next term with a mind more at ease. The CDC suggested ways to cope with tension during the COVID period such as meditation, exercise and getting enough sleep. Other opportunities include having fun experiences that can make you feel better while still engaging with others, like hanging out with your friends via social media or shopping with your family.
Think of Staying at Home?
Since travel may raise the risk of spreading COVID-19, there are a few things to consider before preparing for a spring break vacation. If you are at high risk, are concerned about being exposed to the virus, are not sure where to spend your vacation or can’t afford a lengthy holiday trip, it's best to stay at home.
Dayoung You, a first year studying biology at OSU, said that while students want to relieve stress during the term, she thinks it may be better to go out in Corvallis during spring break when it is less crowded and there are not many people.
Here in Corvallis, we’ve seen the impacts of travel on the health of our local community.
“The increase in cases at OSU that started at the end of Fall term was highly associated with travel during Thanksgiving and Winter Break. The safest choice to avoid exposure to COVID is to stay home during Spring Break,” Mull said.
The CDC suggests that you get the COVID vaccine before you intend to spend a few days out of the house and to keep in mind the health hotel staff, restaurant staff, and people in other public places in the areas you are traveling. If you're uncertain, it's better to stay at home.
“If you choose to travel, avoid traveling to states or cities with high risk of COVID. Avoid crowds indoors or out. If you travel to states that have loosened rules for mask use and business opening, continue to wear a mask while in public places,” Mull said. “Even if restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, etc. might be fully open in other areas of the country that does not mean they are safe places to visit.”
Why Getting a COVID Vaccine is Very Crucial
The CDC has advised that we all need to get vaccinated, particularly before leaving for a vacation or trip. Some people may think that COVID-19 is just a type of flu, but in fact, it's a lot worse than that around the world.
“Last year, I had to come back to Korea during spring break, and I should have been quarantined for two weeks,” You said.
According to CDC studies, COVID-19 has taken more lives of people who were infected in the United States since December 2019 than influenza has had in the past five years. Based on vaccine studies, the COVID-19 vaccine could help prevent us from becoming critically ill, particularly if you get the virus. Vaccinating can also protect people around us, especially those at higher risk for serious symptoms and complications from COVID-19.
Taking simply supplements or vitamins to prevent us from potentially contracting the corona-virus is not working.
“There is no evidence that any vitamin or mineral supplement or natural compound helps prevent COVID infection or minimizes symptoms once infected. A recent study in JAMA showed no benefit from high dose Vitamin C and Zinc in decreasing the symptoms of COVID,” Mull said.
“There is no evidence that these or similar supplements prevent infection with COVID or other viruses. However, eating healthy foods, getting adequate rest and minimizing the use of alcohol and other substances are the best choices for keeping the immune system strong.”
COVID-19 concerns are still everywhere around the world. Although vaccines are more widely available, it is still our responsibility to take it seriously to follow the health guidelines to keep our community safe. We need to follow safe holiday guidelines suggested by the CDC and from the SHS at OSU to keep our body and mind fit when we go back to campus for Spring term.
Before you travel, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/holiday for more information.