Lori Barcello stood outside Mitten Hall shivering in her Temple University sweatshirt, as a chilling wind blew late Wednesday morning.
She was waiting for her roommate, fellow Temple student Rachel Jones, who was inside the campus building getting a COVID-19 test. Barcello, a master’s degree student in occupational therapy, has an appointment Friday to get a test. Neither felt sick, but both want to be sure they don’t expose their loved ones to the coronavirus when they see them during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“My dad is immunocompromised, so I’ve just been extra vigilant throughout all of this,” said Barcello, 22.
This week, Temple is offering testing to students who want it, and some other large colleges in the region, including Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Rowan University, and Stockton University, are doing the same. Smaller campuses, including Haverford, Swarthmore, and Ursinus Colleges, also are offering the tests. Thousands of students are opting for them.
It’s one way colleges are trying to make sure that students don’t take an unwanted guest to the Thanksgiving table.
Colleges are cautioning that tests are only a snapshot in time, not a preventive measure, and that other precautions, such as social distancing, handwashing, and avoiding large gatherings, are needed. Some have encouraged students to quarantine for a couple of weeks before leaving campus except for attending classes or getting essentials and to wear a mask and social distance from others in their household for a period when they return home.
Penn suggested students depart for home earlier than usual to avoid peak travel times.
The guidance comes as many campuses have had hundreds, in Penn State’s case thousands, of coronavirus cases during the fall semester.
“Penn State is strongly encouraging students to take extra precautions and carefully follow all health requirements and guidelines,” said Rachel Pell, a university spokesperson.
The University Park campus, with 40,000 undergraduates, had 273 active coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. Pell said the university several times alerted parents to the free available tests so they could urge their children to take one. As of Thursday, more than 18,500 students had signed up across Penn State’s 24 campuses, she said. About 10,000 students live in residence halls there and about 3,500 on other campuses, but many more live in the surrounding communities.
The University of Pennsylvania, where classes have been conducted remotely but many students live near campus, has advised students to wear masks when they return home to protect their loved ones, especially those with chronic conditions or who may be immunocompromised.
“Try to sleep in a room alone and use a designated bathroom up to 14 days after arriving home, if at all possible,” Benoit Dubé, Penn’s associate provost and chief wellness officer, wrote in an email to students.
Campuses also are preparing for students who can’t go home, in some cases because they are in isolation or quarantine as a result of the virus, or don’t want to go.
“We have some students who won’t be going home at all because they don’t think it will be safe,” said Diane D’Amico, a spokesperson at Stockton. “They have family members who are immunocompromised.”
At Rowan, where 4,100 students live on campus and approximately 2,000 live nearby, students who test positive will be able to stay on campus and isolate in Triad Hall, which has been set aside for that purpose. Meals and health monitoring will be provided, said spokesperson Joe Cardona.
Nearly 1,300 students registered for pre-departure testing, Cardona said. Almost 800 employees opted for home test kits, he said.
Other campuses, such as Villanova, are not offering predeparture testing but are providing students with a list of places off campus where testing is available. Villanova continues to test students who are symptomatic or have been exposed, as well as conduct random samples.
Temple, where 95% of classes are being conducted remotely, recommended that students quarantine for two weeks before going home for the holiday. About 1,200 students are living in university housing.
“That should give them as good of a chance as any of being very low risk to family members,” said university spokesperson Ray Betzner.
Temple said 3,300 students were being tested this week, including predeparture tests and those for students with symptoms or exposure.
“I don’t want to give my parents COVID,” said senior Sarah Doan, a civil-engineering major from Atlantic City, who planned to get tested this week.
Doan said her brother, Andrew, a Temple sophomore, had already been tested and was negative.
Barcello said she has been tested off campus regularly this semester, just to be sure she hasn’t contracted the virus. Temple’s College of Public Health, which she is in, emphasizes protecting self and others, she said.
“You can’t help people by making other people sick,” she said.
She’s been quarantining, too, in preparation for heading home, she said.
“We have our bubble. It’s me, my roommate, and my older sister, who lives in South Philly, and that’s about it,” she said.
Next week, she and her sister plan to make the 3½-hour drive, nonstop, to their home in Connecticut.
Jones, 23, also a master’s student in occupational health, said her fiance is coming to visit for the holiday. He’s also getting tested before he arrives.
“We’re just making sure everyone’s good,” she said.