The dilemma faced by the Sadowskys is one shared by many Minnesota families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanksgiving looms in just a few weeks. While Sue and Alan Sadowsky's eldest daughter can't make it, their youngest daughter, a medical student in Chicago, wants to come home for the holiday. Although the Twin Cities couple was wary of the visit, they "couldn't stomach" saying no.
The trade-off for getting to yes? Clear rules to contain the virus. Quarantining and getting a COVID test before hitting the road. Once at home, strict social distancing, wearing a mask even inside the house, and frequently disinfecting household surfaces. If their daughter wants to go see friends, the couple told her she had to stay with her friends for the rest of her visit before returning to Chicago.
What Sue Sadowsky calls their "little pod" approach isn't ideal, but it's the responsible thing to do to protect themselves and others. "We know it's not foolproof, but we are doing everything we possibly can," she said.
The precautions outlined may seem stringent, but few families have as much in-house expertise as the Sadowskys. Alan Sadowsky is a physician, and the couple's eldest daughter is, too. Their thoughtful plan combines medical knowledge and parenting experience, and should inspire others when it comes to safely welcoming home a student.
As the pandemic worsens in the U.S., the homefront has become the front line against the virus. Daily case numbers nationally and in Minnesota have hit new highs, and hospitalizations have risen sharply. Universities, students, families — all have a vital role to play in stopping viral spread.
Too many college towns across the nation became COVID hot spots this fall when dorms reopened. While those in their late teens and early 20s don't usually become seriously ill, they can spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable.
Thankfully, new data suggests students here are taking precautions. Case numbers have declined at Minnesota's colleges and universities over the past month, according to a Star Tribune report. But many students go to school elsewhere, and the virus has proved its ability to hitchhike with travelers.
Universities across the nation should be prepping students and families now for safe departure, particularly since quarantining for at least 14 days before leaving is best. For example, Iowa State University officials told an editorial writer that they are "working on plans for semester-end testing." Others, such as the State University of New York system, will require a negative COVID test before students leave.
In Minnesota, health officials have not recommended requiring a test for students at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses. One reason that a test is just a snapshot in time, and a negative may be incorrectly interpreted as a license to abandon precautions.
However, state health officials are underscoring the importance of students quarantining for 14 days before leaving campus and wearing masks at home. Other guidance is available at tinyurl.com/covid-campuses. In addition, a University of Minnesota spokesman said that a COVID-19 saliva testing program for students will launch soon, "through which every student on each of our five campuses has access to one free (mail-in) saliva test."
COVID tests are also available to the public through private medical providers and at the Minnesota Department of Health's community testing sites. More details are available at tinyurl.com/mn-test-sites.
The holidays should spread cheer, not COVID. Plan now to make it so.