Coming Up on Fall Break: Potential COVID-19 Impact and Concerns


Colgate University

TRAVELER TESTING: As students prepare for fall break travel, the University re-opens ’worried-but-well’ testing options upon departure and return.

Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic last year, the University cancelled its annual October break during the Fall 2020 semester to prevent further spread of the virus. Given the schools’ vaccination policy, students are now permitted to travel off-campus during the upcoming fall break between Oct. 9 to Oct. 12. The University’s shift in attitude poses many questions for both students and administration given the ongoing state of the pandemic. All students will be allowed to leave campus, travel where they would like, and return without mandatory testing.

On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Task Force on Reopening sent an email to the campus community providing information about reducing risks associated with fall break travel, as well as optional pre-departure and return-travel testing for students. The email outlined the risks associated with fall break travel and things that students can do to limit those risks to themselves and others.

“Students and employees should carefully consider their travel plans and take steps to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. We also recommend taking precautions to protect others with whom you will have close contact, especially people who may be particularly vulnerable to the disease,” the Task Force wrote in their Sept. 29 email to the student body. 

Optional pre-departure and return-travel testing options will be available for students choosing to travel. However, the University Health Center states that testing is not necessary for students who are not considered close contacts or experiencing symptoms. Instead, the University website affirms that priority testing will go to students where a test is medically warranted. “Worried-and-well testing” is offered on a limited basis depending on demand. 

According to member of the Task Force on Reopening and Associate Professor of Biology Geoff Holm, the Task Force has recommended these precautions in order to prevent students from bringing the COVID-19 virus home and spreading it once back on campus. 98% of the student body is vaccinated against the virus, and thus are protected against serious illness, according to Holm.

“We are in a very different place this year than we were last year,” said Holm. “Success in vaccinating the Colgate population means that we no longer need to be in a ‘zero COVID’ mindset, but can operate in a space where we manage the infections that do occur.”

Junior Miranda Hirsch noted that when she did not feel well, the University did not have the option for COVID-19 testing available. Her case instead fell under the “worried-and-well” testing category.

“Because I felt like I had more than a cold, I wanted to get a test for COVID-19. Eventually, I was identified as positive from a Kinney’s Drug Store rapid test and forced to isolate myself,” Hirsch said. “I think it’s great that Colgate has decided to give students the option of testing, whether they want to take it or not.”

Currently, the University is maintaining the same COVID-19 policies as the beginning of the year. Students began the year with a requirement to take two tests, one upon arrival and one five days later, to attend classes and in-person events. After completing the arrival test, testing is now only required for unvaccinated students. 

“Students with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 should not attend class or events and should call Student Health Services for further medical advice,” the Task Force wrote in the email.

Health Analytics Team Manager Severin Flanigen notes the current trends for cases on campus. 

“At Colgate, cases have been steadily declining since the indoor mask mandate was put in place.  By mid-September, we had a total of 93 positive student cases on campus,” Flanigen said. “Now, we are down to just two, with those individuals expected to leave isolation on Oct. 1st.” 

Many students feel that fall break is a necessary time away from school to relax and travel home before the winter season arrives. Junior Ava Wigdor, who tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, expressed the necessity for having fall break.

“I think that having a long weekend will be a really nice break from this hectic semester,” Wigdor said.

While most students feel safe with the upcoming fall break, questions and concerns still remain regarding the possibility of bringing COVID-19 back to campus. With optional testing available upon return, the University may be able to adapt to the return of students and keep their health a priority.