ST PAUL, Minn. — Nisha Kimber’s freshman year at the University of St. Thomas has not gone as planned – not with masks, social distancing and COVID-19 upending every aspect of the college experience.
That includes Thanksgiving break.
“This is a different holiday season,” Kimber said, wearing a purple mask as she stood on the edge of campus. “It’s very strange.”
Kimber, a Maple Grove native, will be able to visit immediate family for Thanksgiving, but she will not be able to see two of her grandparents.
“It’s really tough. My dad had to sit down and talk to his parents and really dive into this issue. It’s something we really had to think about,” Kimber said. “It’s not very fun. You don’t get to see who you usually see.”
Kimber and other college students across Minnesota – and across the country, for that matter – are all wrestling with similar issues, as they decide whether to go home for Thanksgiving break while knowing they are most likely to be carrying the virus asymptomatically. The Centers for Disease Control guidelines do not consider students to be part of an immediate household, and in recent guidance, the agency pointed out that students’ presence at holiday gatherings “pose varying levels of risk.” The Minnesota Department of Health, however, noted in its own guidelines that “students returning home over a break are not considered a separate household; however, they should be following recommendations for when or if they travel home during break.”
Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease specialist at MDH, said during a news conference last week that students should consider virtual celebrations on campus if possible. She also strongly advised against travel, particularly if a student plans to return to a college campus after Thanksgiving break.
“We encourage you to either go home, and stay home if you can,” Ehresmann said, “or, just stay here in Minnesota and on campus.”
At the University of Minnesota, some dorm space will remain available through holiday breaks, either for students with housing contracts that extend through the winter or for students who need to isolate and quarantine. Practically speaking, though, many students told KARE 11 they plan to head home for Thanksgiving break – and will heed advice to stay home through the end of the semester (The U of M’s Twin Cities campus will move to completely virtual classes after Thanksgiving).
Sophomore Kiana Haug said that’s exactly what she’s going to do. The North Dakota native will only see her immediate household for Thanksgiving and will limit contact after that.
“Going home,” Haug said, “I really don’t want to spread it to the rest of my family.”
The Minnesota Department of Health also encourages students to get tested before and after leaving campus, which many seem to be doing. Haug, for example, said she just got tested about a week before Thanksgiving.
At St. Thomas, freshman Lindsey Larson was among the many students who took advantage of free testing ahead of Thanksgiving. As a native of the Twin Cities metro, she does not have far to go, but she recognizes the need for a low-key holiday.
“That’s why I’m limiting myself to immediately family,” Larson said. “I know, no matter what, I’m not going to see my grandparents. It’s definitely something to think about.”
Fellow freshmen Joe Ventrelli and Ryan Gramse also got tested alongside Larson. Their families also live in the Twin Cities area.
“You don’t want to get your family sick and put them at risk,” Gramse said. “It’s a small price to pay for that.”