A regional coalition of Northeast Governors, including Governor Gina Raimondo, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Governor John Carney of Delaware, today announced they will encourage residential colleges and universities in their respective states to provide testing for all students traveling home for Thanksgiving break to the maximum extent possible before they leave campus.
According to a press release issued by Governor Lamont’s office on behalf of the coalition, “any student who tests positive will be encouraged to isolate on campus before they can travel or detail arrangements of their safe travel home with the local department of health. These efforts will help mitigate the threat of college students returning home for the holidays importing COVID-19 into their communities. In addition, colleges should inform students and their families of relevant quarantine policies in their home state”.
“As our COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, it’s critical that we come together as a region to slow the spread and keep our constituents safe,” Governor Raimondo said in the release. “We all need to be more vigilant about keeping our circles small and our masks on, while at the same time we’re continuing to ramp up asymptomatic testing across-the-board. This collaborative approach among Northeastern states will help us flatten the curve and contain spread over the Thanksgiving holiday.”
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The combination of rising cases across the country – including in the northeast – due to increased transmission of COVID in small, residential settings and Thanksgiving travel has created the perfect storm for viral spread, according to the coalition. If people proceed with celebrations in small gatherings outside of their immediate families, they risk generating a dramatic spike in cases after Thanksgiving. All governors are urging their residents to stay home and celebrate small this year in an effort to help eliminate the risk of unchecked COVID-19 spread in the coming weeks.
The governors and their public health experts developed this guidance over the weekend at an emergency summit of northeastern governors. The governors also emphasized the importance of in-person education. Medical research as well as the data from northeastern states, from across the country, and from around the world make clear that in-person learning is safe when the appropriate protections are in place, even in communities with high transmission rates. In-person learning is the best possible scenario for children, especially those with special needs and from low-income families. There is also growing evidence that the more time children spend outside of school increases the risk of mental health harm and affects their ability to truly learn.
In order to stop college-related travel spreading COVID, colleges and universities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware will be encouraged to make testing available to all students before they leave for Thanksgiving break and inform students and their families of states’ quarantine requirements. Any student who tests positive before they leave should be permitted to isolate on campus, or may travel safely with the approval of the local departments of health. Students who are already isolating or quarantining on campus must remain in place until completing their prescribed seclusion.
In addition, the governors are strongly recommending that colleges and universities finish their fall semesters by expanding remote instruction, enabling more students to learn from home for the few weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break rather than require students to travel back to campus and then back home again in December. Half of colleges and universities across the northeast have already indicated they will be fully remote between Thanksgiving and the end of their fall semester. Colleges and universities should prioritize on-campus programs for students who did not travel or who need in-person exams or clinical and laboratory experiences.
If colleges and universities do reopen for in-person instruction during this period, all returning students should receive COVID-19 tests and comply with relevant isolation and quarantine protocols. These institutions should also double down on precautions including frequent health screenings and surveillance testing due the increased risk of COVID exposure from student travel.