COVID-19 has heavily impacted many students’ plans for Thanksgiving, and the University of Maryland recently updated their policies to contain the virus and keep students safe.
According to a Nov. 5 announcement, students living in on-campus housing have two options for the remainder of the semester. They can either return home and stay there for the remainder of the semester or stay on campus for Thanksgiving break and then until the end of the finals.
The university wants to minimize the amount of students going home to different parts of the country and being exposed to many people, and then returning to campus, bringing with them a host of germs and potentially COVID-19.
“If you travel, it makes sense that they're trying to protect public health. Yeah, and it's good people have the options that they do, like letting people stay, because not everyone has a home to go to,” said Victoria Panullo, a sophomore business major.
In addition to impacting university policy, COVID-19 affects many people’s Thanksgiving plans with their families.
Panullo usually goes to her aunt and uncle’s house in New Jersey with her family, but this year her family will not go visit them and other family members. Like many other families, they will be doing a smaller Thanksgiving celebration this year.
“My parents aren’t comfortable being around that many people inside, so my immediate family is just going to do a Thanksgiving dinner together,” Panullo said.
Professor Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy & management, is also adjusting his Thanksgiving plans this year. He typically visits his family in California every year, but this year is an exception due to the risks that traveling poses.
“Unfortunately the weight of the pandemic has made travel challenging, you know, logistically, emotionally and otherwise and as problems increase across the country,” Sehgal said. “It becomes less safe.”
Additionally, his parents are in the high-risk group for COVID-19, which contributes to the hazard he could impart on them.
While there are many health risks associated with traveling, Sehgal is not telling people they should not travel at all. He explains that this approach of preaching abstinence is ineffective, and instead people should simply be careful and take precautions when traveling.
“In my domain of public health, we think harm reduction as opposed to abstinence only because it's more reasonable for people to make better and more informed decisions and manage their individual risk,” Sehgal said.
However, not everyone’s plans have changed, as they may not be traveling or planning to be with large groups of people for the holiday.
Gabby Lewis, a junior journalism major, usually stays at home for Thanksgiving, since her extended family lives in California.
“Thanksgiving is usually just me and then my parents and my sister anyways,” Lewis said. “I know that I'm fortunate that my plans just haven't changed.”
Additionally, since Lewis lives in an off-campus apartment she does not need to follow the on-campus housing guidelines for the break. She is planning to go home and then return to her apartment after the break.
“When I go home, I only see my family and then when I come back here I only see my roommates, so I'm really not seeing anyone different than I've usually seen. They're all people who have been socially distant,” Lewis said.
Many students and professors will have different experiences this Thanksgiving, and COVID-19 undoubtedly is creating harder decision-making for people overall.
“The notion that Thanksgiving or the December holidays will be like they were a year ago is misguided,” Sehgal said. “There's a reasonable way that they can't be.”