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Home Sweet Hotspot: Students Travel Home Amidst Record-High COVID-19 Cases

While many college campuses across the country saw COVID-19 outbreaks this fall that sent students home or locked them in their rooms for weeks, Haverford was able to avoid this outcome. Because the campus community was never home to more than a few cases at once, many students began to see the campus as a bubble. The regular biweekly testing along with mandated masking and social distancing also added to students’ comfort levels this semester.

And as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across the nation this month, the Haverford bubble seemed that much more appealing to students. “I’m grateful that the majority of people within Haverford have been mindful of the safety guidelines we have in place,” said Jean Wriggins ’24.

Unfortunately, these demonstrations of basic respect for the health of others have not been so common in many communities around the nation, including the hometowns of many Haverford students. Despite the record-breaking case counts, some states are still allowing large, unmasked gatherings to occur with no consequences. This recklessness means that heading home for Thanksgiving break is causing a new emotion for many Fords this year: fear.

For some students, the fear of being at home is minor compared to that of simply getting there, as many students are planning to fly back home. Lydia Guertin ’24, from Franklin, Tennessee, said that getting on a plane “is terrifying” for her, a concern shared by many. However, the CDC has indicated that “because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” the planes themselves may actually be less dangerous than crowded airport terminals and security lines.

But even for those who are able to drive or be driven home, COVID-related concerns are at the front of their minds. Many are worried about passing the disease to family members, especially those who live with relatives in high-risk categories.

Annie Wernerfelt ’24, whose parents are both high-risk, said that she and her college-aged sister will be driving home together without their parents and isolating until they receive negative test results, hopefully in time for Thanksgiving. Sasha Freedman ’24, who is also driving home, expressed similar concerns about high-risk family members, saying that she “anticipate[s] spending the whole break basically under lockdown.”

Regardless of how students are getting home, having to leave Haverford is not ideal for a large portion of the student body when it comes to COVID-19 safety. Riley Sobel ’24 admitted that she “will miss the social aspects, mutual trust and regular testing of the Haverford bubble.”

One challenge that many will face is the lack of testing resources in their hometown, especially those who live in highly populated areas. Freedman, who is from Washington, D.C., expressed that she is “most nervous about losing regular and free testing” and Tiên Vũ ’23, who is from Houston, also cited the “lack of regular free testing” in her city as one of her top concerns.

Another fear shared by a variety of students leaving the Haverford bubble is the recklessness of others in their hometown communities and social groups. Because so many colleges and cities across the country have failed to take this pandemic seriously, many Haverford students have friends, colleagues, and neighbors with a much different perspective on the importance of masking and distancing.

In Phoenix, the hometown of Hannah Ivester ’24, local colleges and students do not take strong precautions: “A lot of my high school friends are at ASU [Arizona State University] and U of A [the University of Arizona] among other places and they do not wear masks at all like we do,” she said. As a result, she is considering staying home during break rather than seeing her friends.

But another two months of isolation at home after the strict quarantine just this past spring is also a real fear for students. Sarah Abraham ’23, whose parents recently moved to a new city, expressed that her break would likely be “pretty isolating since [she] can’t even meet people safely if [she] wanted to.” And Mina Moore ’22 is worried about another prolonged period of isolation, stating: “I can see my mental health being an issue.”

Yet even if students are able to get home and stay home safely while caring for their mental health, there is still the issue of transitioning to the remote, at-home class environment for the last three weeks of the semester. “I’m hoping to keep with my routine in terms of school,” said Isabella Rose ’24, whose hometown in Arizona is in a time zone two hours behind Haverford. “But, the (slight) time zone difference and having my siblings all trying to complete online school under one roof may derail that desire,” she added.

Still, despite all the fears and risks, Haverford students are going home. It remains to be seen whether these next two months will continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, and if they do, if Haverford can recreate its bubble next semester as students return from hotspots all over the world. Much of that will depend on students, faculty, and staff continuing the commitment to community safety at home that they’ve shown at Haverford.

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