CLEVELAND, Ohio — As COVID-19 outbreaks pop up on college campuses, parents may be understandably worried about their children’s well-being. Doctors warn to be cautious when considering bringing students back home — but that supporting their mental health is important.
Doctors say students and parents should know how their circumstances line up with the college’s plans for action.
“I think you need to think about your child as an individual,” said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of pediatric infection control at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. “The kind of risks that they may have in terms of do they have any underlying health risks? Is it important for them to be close to doctors because they have some sort of chronic issue that they’re dealing with?”
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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said students should stay at school if they get sick, so they don’t bring the virus home to parents and people in their communities.
Northeast Ohio colleges are using dorms to isolate and quarantine students, coordinating academics, meals, daily health checks and mental health services.
But it’s natural to want your mom if you’re sick, and for parents to want to comfort their children.
Shelly Fritz of Rocky River said if her daughter, Ava, was sick at Ohio University, her natural instinct would be to bring her home from her sorority house.
But since the house has a quarantine room, Fritz said she would leave the decision to Ava.
“We have in our house, we’re fortunate we have a third floor where she lives, so we could essentially quarantine her up there,” Fritz said. “Granted she’d still be in our house, but I’m not going to say no to my daughter. If she wants to come home and she’s more comfortable, I’m going to let her come home and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Hoyen urged parents who are mulling whether to bring their children home to be in touch with their health care providers and mold the safest situation for everyone involved, even if it’s inconvenient.
“Because if you’re somebody who your doctor is saying you really shouldn’t be exposed to someone who is COVID positive, then if you do have to bring your child home because they are sick enough to need to come home, then maybe one of you goes to stay in a hotel,” Hoyen said. “Or stays with another family member.”
Dr. Abdulla Ghori, vice chair of pediatrics at MetroHealth, said ill or exposed students staying in dorms would be a good option. But if the student brought COVID-19 to school, then it’s possible the parents could have been infected as well, Ghori said. The parents would need to be tested and underlying conditions of relatives would have to be considered.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation for a parent to know that their child is positive for COVID, and they cannot help the child,” Ghori said. “But at the same time, you also have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the child coming home.”
Ghori said if the child is brought home in a car, whoever is in the car is likely to get infected because it’s an enclosed space. It’s just one of the variables that would be present in deciding whether to bring a student home.
Ghori added that going to pick up students before an outbreak happens wouldn’t be wise. Since students are already at school, they could have been exposed to the virus.
If students are worried about the coronavirus, parents could play a key role in helping easing their children’s concerns, doctors say.
Dr. Patrick Runnels, the chief medical officer of population health and behavioral health at University Hospitals, said parents should tell children it’s OK to be concerned and anxious, as that is a normal response for this tough situation.
As parents work to support their children in rough times, focusing on the school’s plan can help calm nerves. Being aware of it can help parents be as effective as possible.
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“Two things to be aware of are that parents are still the closest lifeline to their children,” Runnels said. “When their children are doing worse, many parents who have had kids in college, will say this is when things get bad, having supportive parents is really, really important.”
College is already a different experience for everyone, as young adults work to find their paths. But with COVID-19 producing muddied waters, people will need to be more flexible than usual.
As students learn at school, whether it be in-person or remotely, doctors say the importance of being prepared can’t be understated.
“We need to work together, and keeping everybody safe needs to be everybody’s priority,” Hoyen said. “And if we do those things, then we’ll get through this. It’s not that it isn’t going to be long or feel painful as we’re doing it, but we will get through it together.”