Sheets? Check. Towels? Check. Toiletries? Check. Computer? Check. Pulse oximeter? Thermometer? Masks? Hand sanitizer? Disinfectant wipes?
Yep, it’s a whole new checklist for getting kids ready to go off to college this fall during the coronavirus pandemic.
We asked Dr. Jill Grimes, a local physician and author of "The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness," for her guidance on what to pack and what advice to give students before they leave.
For parents who are worried about sending kids back to school, Grimes reminds us that most people who get the virus and have symptoms have mild symptoms.
"There are college-age kids who get really sick and could die," she says. "It’s a tiny portion. We have to keep that in mind."
The difference, though, between the coronavirus and other diseases that college kids get is that many of those have a vaccine or an easy treatment.
In any given year, Grimes would be recommending that students get their flu shot and are up to date on vaccines for meningitis, mumps, measles, etc.
It’s especially important this year. Imagine getting the flu and then, on top of it, the coronavirus.
The goal for this school year should be to try to stay away from having to go to the student health center as much as possible.
That means packing a first-aid kit that includes over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, Advil and Aleve, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic cream, cough suppressants and cough drops, decongestants and expectorants, migraine relief, ice packs, heating pads, Ace wraps, bandages, lotions for treating a sunburn, alcohol wipes, allergy medications and everything for an upset stomach from Tums to Zantac, Pedialyte powder and Imodium.
Then, if they are having symptoms of the coronavirus, that’s where having a thermometer to measure their temperature and a pulse oximeter to measure their oxygen level can be helpful.
"It makes a difference what your temperature is," she says. "It helps us with a diagnosis."
The pulse oximeter, which clips on your finger, is important because some of the people with the virus don’t have the "air hunger" that you get with other diseases, she says. They might not realize they are not getting enough oxygen. Doctors like the pulse oximeter to read between 95% and 98%. Anything below 90% is a worry. Students should use the pulse oximeter three times if they are feeling sick and keep a record of that, their temperature and their symptoms.
Students need to have more masks than you think they will use. Remember how often you did your laundry in college? Grimes suggests at least a two-week supply, and she likes the ones that have a pocket to add a coffee filter (which means you should pack a bunch of coffee filters). Masks need to be comfortable and fit well.
Have disinfecting wipes, and teach kids to bring them with them in addition to hand sanitizer. Before they touch the elevator button, bring out the wipe, or hand sanitize afterward. They should use hand sanitizer or wash their hands before they eat.
Purchase either a UV light box or use wipes to sterilize their phone every day.
Remind your college-age kids some basic principles:
Wear your mask everywhere except in your dorm room, and wear it correctly (over the nose and mouth).
Always have an extra mask in your backpack.
Avoid big crowds, especially in enclosed spaces.
Don’t share food or drinks.
Try to go to the bathroom only in your dorm or apartment bathroom rather than group bathrooms by your classroom.
Stay healthy by eating healthful foods and exercising (though opt for outside exercises rather than the gym, if possible).
Prioritize sleep and create a regular sleep schedule to avoid being worn down and susceptible to the virus.
Be in control when it comes to alcohol and other substances. Lowered inhibitions could be especially dangerous right now — who is going to remember their mask, hand sanitizing and social distancing when drunk?
Keep allergies in check, again to prevent making yourself more susceptible to the virus.
Know what your campus’s plan is if you start feeling sick. Who do you call? Where do you go? Is there a dorm that will serve as the infirmary? What is the plan for virtual learning? What does re-entrance into campus life look like?
Know the rules of your campus and the repercussions. Some schools have stiff penalties like expulsion if kids are caught socializing in big crowds or not wearing masks.
Understand that there is no way to completely avoid the risk. Kids are going to socialize, they are going to date, and they are going to be physically intimate (and, by the way, there’s no way to avoid coronavirus exposure from someone who has it if they are close enough to be physically intimate).
They can do their best by limiting the number of people they are social with and trying to maintain social distance. Some colleges are creating pods of people where student housing is based on kids who are in classes together, as well as de-densifying student housing by limiting who gets housing or finding housing alternatives like hotel rooms.
Make sure that before your child leaves for college, they have signed legal forms to allow you to see their health records and get health information from doctors. Grimes recommends forms at mamabearlegalforms.com.
Grimes is hopeful that kids will be smart about trying to control the spread and use positive peer pressure to do so. "Kids are highly motivated to stay at college," she says.