A collection of back to school items including a mask and hand sanitizer

Back to College in COVID Times

My family and I just came back from a 3-day, 2-night trip to New Jersey. It was the first time in almost a year that we spent the night anywhere other than our home. While I used to travel all the time for my lung cancer advocacy work and also with my family for fun, COVID changed all that. This time, we traveled only because it was necessary to get my son back to college for the second half of his sophomore year.Ivy and her family driving to Princeton

Making the 12 hour drive to Princeton

Since we didn’t feel comfortable flying, we decided to drive the 12 hours to Princeton, New Jersey. Even though we had been told that only one parent could move my son into his dorm room, we all wanted to see some scenery outside the walls of our house, so my husband and younger son went also and were a huge help in sharing the driving. Given my lung cancer, we have been pretty much locked down since March 13, much more so than many of our friends.

Through Airbnb, we rented an individual house and were able to do contactless check-in through a keypad. Our Airbnb host posted a commitment to a 5-step “Enhanced Clean” process for a special deep COVID cleaning, which cost extra but was well worth it because the house was spotless and had plenty of hand sanitizer all around for us to use. This was actually the first time we have rented through Airbnb, but will definitely not be our last. It was great to have the extra room and a dining area to eat our meals that we procured through convenient curbside pickup!

Move-in day looked different than years past

Moving onto campus was a very different experience compared to my son’s freshman year. Times for move-in were staggered over a week and we were required to sign up for a one-hour slot in advance of arrival. Gone were the days of meeting students and their parents in the hall while moving in. Safety was paramount and the campus was very quiet as my son did his first COVID test and picked up his quarantine meals. He was thrilled to be back at school, regardless of these restrictions. Classes will continue to be mostly remote, but at least he now will be surrounded by friends.

Concerns as a lung cancer survivor

As a mom, I left campus with a lot of conflicting feelings. While I was glad that so many precautions were being taken to keep students safe, I mourned the loss of the “normal” pre-COVID college experience for my son. I also know that I will not be able to see him again until the end of his semester in May at the earliest. Spring break has been canceled, and until I am able to be fully vaccinated, there is no way that I will feel safe enough to come back to visit campus, even if allowed.

As a lung cancer survivor, I have additional concerns. Given the slow vaccine rollout and the current lack of prioritization for cancer patients in my state of Illinois, I have no idea when I will be vaccinated against COVID-19. Will I even be vaccinated by my son’s summer vacation? Will my husband and younger son be vaccinated, who are both lower in prioritization than I am? Will we have to figure out a testing and quarantine protocol before he can safely visit our house again?

Hoping for some semblance of normalcy soon

When my son first made the decision to attend college nearly 800 miles away from home, I worried that in case of an emergency, I would not be able to get to him quickly. I have the same concerns now, only they are greatly exacerbated by COVID-19 and the danger and difficulty of traveling across the country.

What happens if my son gets COVID while at college? While his school has plans for isolation and quarantine of students in this case, as a mom it would be extremely difficult to know my child was sick and I couldn’t be with him. I will be praying every day that this doesn’t happen and our world can get back to “normal” soon.

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