Is it safe to send a son or daughter away to college during the pandemic?

Students know that their ability to stay safe depends on following strict guidelines. But can they be trusted to do so?

For parents, the decision to send kids to college during a pandemic will depend on their willingness to accept the risk that their child will be exposed to the virus. In reaching that decision, parents should consider the rate of community transmission, talk with their child about how to prevent infection and be aware of the college’s response plan, including quarantine and health care options, if they get sick.

Karl Minges, director of the master of public health program at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, is cautiously optimistic.

“As long as you adhere to the public health guidelines of face masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands, I think there is not much risk to engaging in these activities,” he said.

Still, even with preventive measures, an outbreak could occur, and students might have to return home.

Others are not as optimistic as Minges.

William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is concerned with community transmission.

“Schools are one of the most important parts of our society,” Hanage said. “But once you open them, you run the risk of that contributing to community transmission. If you have a point when community transmission is so high that you’re going to have to be going back in the direction of more severe restrictions, then schools may close anyway. So I think what we need to do is not open until we’re really at the limit of another outbreak. And then, in a few months, add schools again on top of that.”

Ultimately, there are no easy answers. Each family needs to figure out what works best for their circumstances.