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Brown’s fall semester comes to gradual close

In light of travel restrictions, some students plan to stay on Brown’s campus through winter and spring

As classes wrap up before Thanksgiving break, many students are packing their bags to head home for the winter. Some have already departed. Others are hunkering down in their dorms and apartments for the reading period and beyond — opting to avoid a change in environment, and possible exposure, as COVID-19 cases rise. 

As students scatter, some choose to stay

“There’s no big goodbye,” Abbie Macher ’23 reflected. “It’s kind of little goodbyes here and there.”

Macher said she ultimately decided to stay at school rather than travel home to Maryland so that she can focus on her final exams. “My entire family can be very loud and distracting,” she explained. “I figured that it would be better if I just focus on finals and skip the holiday.”

Brown students are able to choose any departure date between now and the end of finals period, according to an email from the Office of Residential Life on Nov. 9. The shift back to Level 1 Campus Activity status does not affect the flexible departure timeline, according to Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

The University is also offering students the option to stay in Providence over the winter, either in dorms or in off-campus apartments, according to the email. All students must continue participating in the University COVID-19 testing program for as long as they remain in the area.

In contrast to the flexibility Brown is affording students, some schools, such as Harvard and Yale, are requiring any students on campus to leave before the final exam period unless given permission by the school.

Macher said her decision to stay at Brown until after the reading period was partially guided by her friends’ decisions to stay. “My mom is very concerned about me getting lonely here,” she said. “If it was just me on campus, I think I would have hated that.”

Leo Gordon ’23 also said that he decided to stay to see his friends for as long as possible. “If not for coronavirus, I'd probably be doing Thanksgiving at my uncle's house in Connecticut,” he said. For this year, Gordon is planning a “Friendsgiving” with his pod from school so he can “celebrate the holiday with a different kind of family.”

Other students are preparing to stay at Brown through the winter due to safety concerns. Mahira Khan ’23 said that, because of frequent flight cancellations, returning Bangladesh for the holidays is not an option.

And even if she had been able to secure a flight, Khan was concerned that she would be stuck in Bangladesh, unable to return to the United States in the spring due to fluctuating travel restrictions. “I really don't want to deal with having to do classes with a 10 to 11 hour time difference,” she said.

Flight cancellations and a summer lockdown in Bangladesh prevented her from travelling earlier this year. She has not returned to Bangladesh since January of last year. 

“I just miss being home,” Khan said. “I can video call my family back home, but it just isn't the same.”

Spending so long at Brown has changed Khan’s perception of the campus. “At one point, Brown felt more like home than home did. Not in the sense of community, but in the sense of, ‘this is like where I belong now.’”

Traveling Safely

Many of those who have planned to leave campus will travel away from Rhode Island for the long break, across the country and the globe. Students will board trains and buses and enter international airports as they return home for the upcoming holiday, remote final exams period and winter break. 

The Centers for Disease Control released guidance against Thanksgiving travel last Thursday.  “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” 

Still, The Washington Post reported on Friday that over one million passengers passed through airports that day, the “second highest single-day rush since the pandemic began.” More recent data published by the Transportation Security Administration shows that on Sunday Nov. 22, 1,047,934 people were screened by TSA at airports across the country. One year ago on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, that number was 2,321,546. While this suggests a general decrease in Thanksgiving-week travel compared to pre-pandemic years, the TSA has seen an uptick in travelers in the lead-up to Thanksgiving compared to other days this fall. 

Professor of Economics Emily Oster wrote in an email to The Herald that “people crave a sense of normalcy, so they want the holidays to be like usual, and that is inherently a risky proposition.” Oster recently published an op-ed in the New York Times titled “How to Deal with People Who Ignore COVID-19 Safety.” 

But for the many students who planned to return home for the extended break, Carey noted that staying put is not possible. 

“The CDC guidance is particularly oriented towards discretionary and travel, and people traveling that don't need to, and I think a student having to go home, and then not come back to college (or) university, that’s a different category,” Carey said.

Students at Brown will have access to testing before departure. While students can work to schedule a final test in accordance with their travel date, the usual schedule of testing twice each week ensures each student will have a test within the three days leading up to their date of departure, Carey said. 

Guidance from Health Services also encourages students to “wear a mask indoors and outdoors, maintain strict social distancing, and frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer while travelling.” 

Carey said that the impending travels of many students contributed to the University’s planning in the last week, when Brown went back to Campus Activity Level 1 last Tuesday. He said students should be “easing off on their activities and minimizing their contacts and staying safe. So when they travel and go home, they're not exposing anyone to unnecessary risk.” 

“The decision to go to remote classes was part of that, as well, to really help ease and facilitate that transition,” Carey added.

On last week’s episode of The Herald’s podcast, “The COVID Pod with Dr. Ashish Jha,” Dean of the School of Public Health Ashish Jha spoke to the issue of Thanksgiving travel. 

“The safest would be: You go home, you go to your room and you stay there for 14 days. But my guess is that’s pretty unrealistic for most people. So it’s all about risk mitigation.”

Dr. Jha said, “if you can really try for the first seven to 10 days to be more careful wear a mask around the house if you can — I know it’s not super exciting. And then after that, you become part of the household.” 

Students should “pay attention to the guidance from their local health officials and follow that to the best of their ability,” Carey said. This could mean scheduling a test in the local vicinity shortly after arrival, or staying in a quarantine. 


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