Normally a highly-anticipated pause from coursework and an opportunity to catch up with family, fall break just doesn’t feel the same this year.
“I wish I was more excited for break and this semester to be over, but honestly I think it’s going to be just as stressful as being in school with everything going on,” said Kynoebi Simpson-Hankins, a senior engineering major.
Simpson-Hankins, a resident assistant at Morgan Hall, was looking forward to a much needed breather from both his academic and work responsibilities. But as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, break may not be as stress-free as he hoped.
With fall break next week and final exams in sight, Temple University students are feeling mixed emotions and grappling with the choice of staying in their residences on and near Main Campus or returning home as an unprecedented fall semester reaches its final stretch.
To limit travel to and from Main Campus, the university plans to modify or suspend most in-person operations starting Nov. 20 and finish the remainder of the semester remotely, The Temple News reported.
The current rise in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia and nationwide further complicates a week typically filled with the start of holiday season travel plans.
On Nov. 13, the city reported 1,158 new cases, breaking its record for single-day infections, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Philadelphia’s spike follows a larger nationwide rise in cases, after the United States reported a record-breaking 184,000 new single-day infections last Friday, with those numbers projected to increase in coming weeks, CNN reported.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is now the peak of the pandemic,” said Jessica Barber, a sophomore international affairs major. “We’ve all been dealing with this for so long and I guess I just expected things to get better instead of worse at this stage.”
The university is offering free COVID-19 tests to students returning home and will offer testing for students who plan on traveling through Nov. 20 at Mitten Hall, The Temple News reported.
Whether returning home or staying near Main Campus, most students are facing the difficult decision to either stay put or travel home as the pandemic enters what may be its most intense phase yet.
THE TRAVEL RISK
Almost a year since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, the U.S. is now facing the largest spike in cases yet, and public health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning that it will likely worsen in coming weeks, especially as people travel for the holidays, CNN reported.
This leaves students with the tough choice of either returning home and potentially exposing themselves and their family members to the virus or staying put in off campus housing, spending most of their break in relative isolation.
Temple’s Director of Student Health Services Mark Denys urged students to avoid any in-person gatherings and to quarantine for two weeks prior to their departure from campus, The Temple News reported.
Current CDC guidelines advise against any in-person holiday gatherings with people living outside their immediate housing unit, which includes college students returning home from campus.
Because higher infection rates are tied to small, in-person gatherings, public health officials say events like Thanksgiving can be dangerous, especially if attendees are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, the Washington Post reported.
Chloe Pantazelos, a senior ceramics major, has opted to stay at her off campus apartment at 18th Street near Berks out of fear she may bring the virus back to her parents’ home in Bel Air, Maryland.
“It just doesn’t seem worth the risk right now,” Pantazelos said. “I may reevaluate in the next couple weeks, but for now I’m pretty set on staying here.”
Some students’ fall break plans hinge on their ability to get tested for the virus, but despite the reassurances offered through testing, there’s still worries about the possibility of contracting the virus while traveling home.
Traveling by plane, bus or train increases risk of contracting COVID-19, with infection rates higher in tight indoor spaces with poor ventilation, BBC reported.
“I absolutely plan on getting tested before returning home, but a negative result only tells you if you’re infected or not at that exact moment,” said Zoe Andersson, a junior film and media arts major who plans on returning to her home in Northwest Philadelphia for break. “Between getting my results back and traveling home, a lot can happen.”
TO GO HOME
For students living on campus, there are few choices but to return home after all residence halls close on Nov. 21.
Simpson-Hankins plans on returning home to his parents’ home in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, but still has serious concerns about the virus.
“My grandpop died from the virus last April, so I know how deadly it can be,” he said.
Simpson-Hankins is planning to get tested for COVID-19 at Mitten Hall this week.
“My mom is 60 years old though and potentially at risk, so I really need to be sure,” Simpson-Hankins added.
Sabrina Dormer, a senior history major, plans to go back and forth between her apartment on Broad Street near Girard Avenue and her parents’ home during the break, and plans to be tested for the virus periodically.
To avoid exposure, she intends on leaving both locations as little as possible and taking precautions while traveling in between, like wearing masks and washing her hands, Dormer said.
“I’m pretty much planning on just staying inside,” she added. “I’m still working on my grad school applications, so at least that will give me something to do.”
TO STAY NEAR CAMPUS
Barber altered her original plan to return home to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family in Rochester, Pennsylvania, instead opting to stay in her apartment at 18th Street near Monument.
“I’m not only afraid of getting my family sick, but I also just learned that both my aunt and uncle tested positive for the virus, so it just does not seem ideal to go home right now,” Barber said. “It’s not that I don’t miss my family, I really do, I just think going home will make things a lot more stressful for everyone.”
With both of her roommates gone, Barber said she would most likely spend Thanksgiving and the remainder of break with her boyfriend’s family, who lives in North Philadelphia.
Patrick Gallagher, a sophomore business management major, is surprised the pandemic is accelerating at the rate it currently is.
“When the virus first started, I never guessed almost a year later we would be seeing the most cases,” he said. “I’m just so tired of it at this point.”
Gallagher, who lives in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, is opting to stay in his apartment at 18th Street near Page as opposed to returning home for break.
“I had originally planned on doing a snowboarding trip with some of my home friends for a week or so, but that got chalked,” Gallagher said. “Honestly, I’m going to be bored at home or bored here, but I think there’s a little more going on here socially.”
However, some students don’t have the choice to return home, like Sid Dua, who plans to stay near campus for fall break but travel home at the end of the semester.
Despite already purchasing his plane tickets to Delhi, India, his childhood home where his family still resides, it remains unclear whether or not he will be able to return home due to the possibility of new travel restrictions.
“It’s really just going to depend on whether or not there’s another travel ban,” said Dua, a senior management information studies major. “The way cases are looking right now, both in the states and in India, I’m pretty doubtful I’ll be going home.”
Travel between the U.S. and India is still possible, but the U.S. is currently advising against any non-essential travel, with the possibility of tighter restrictions if cases continue to rise, according to the CDC.
If unable to return to India, Dua said he plans to stay with family in Long Island, New York, but only after he is tested for COVID-19.
“The other risk of going back to India is that I won’t be able to reenter the states for the spring semester if the pandemic continues to get worse,” he added. “It’s stressful, but it’s something I really have no control over.”
BRACING FOR HOW LONG
On top of an already long list of unknowns for students, the larger question is how long — how long to stay home or near campus, how long this spike in cases will last and how long the pandemic and precautions will last as a whole.
Dormer’s attitude to the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March was quite different compared to how she is approaching the large increases in infections happening now, she said.
“I remember when the first outbreak happened in April, I was washing my hands nonstop and lysoling like everything,” Dormer added. “Now with this current spike, which I know is super concerning, I think more people are maybe cutting corners because they’re so tired of lockdown.”
One of the few things some students are excited for is a break from online learning, which has been taxing on their motivation and mental health.
“I’m counting down the days till I don’t have to Zoom anymore honestly,” Simpson-Hankins said. “I don’t think I’d mind any of my classes in person, but just the way I operate has made online really difficult and draining.”
A Monday announcement regarding a possible vaccine offers a glimmer of hope to some students, after a trial by the drug company Moderna showed promising preliminary results, NPR reported.
“I’ll absolutely get the vaccine once it’s available,” Gallagher said. “My hope is that if enough people get it, we may be able to have a more normal spring semester, but that still seems really up in the air.”