11:54:04 UKCOVID2020

University of Kentucky students get tested for COVID-19 at a drive through testing site on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Students will be returning home for the seven-week winter break in just 10 days or less, and both students and administration are taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 back in students' hometowns.

UK has advised that students get exit tested for COVID-19 before returning home for the break.

UK’s student testing, tracing, and screening website reads: “We are strongly encouraging our students to be tested for COVID-19 and receive a flu shot before departing campus at the end of the semester. Time your test to ensure that you receive your results before traveling.”

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said after UK’s suggestion of exit testing, the school’s testing sites have seen an increase in scheduled tests as we near the break.

“The volume has increased a bit – among our student and community sites we are doing a few hundred a day right now,” Blanton said.

Blanton said isolation facilities on campus would stay open through the break for students who test positive before the break and must quarantine.

“If they test positive, we will encourage them to do the appropriate quarantining and isolating while at home to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. We will ask them to continue to screen during the break,” Blanton said.

UK has also announced that they will be doing another baseline round of testing before students return in the spring, similar to the one they conducted prior to the fall 2020 semester.

Blanton said they will continue reporting their COVID-19 numbers to the school’s dashboard throughout Thanksgiving Break but are unsure about reporting those over the full seven-week break.

“We are discussing how the dashboard will be maintained, once students are gone for the seven weeks between Thanksgiving and the start of baseline testing in the spring,” Blanton said.

UK Spokesperson Jay Blanton said the school will continue offering their community testing sites by Kroger Field and Eastern State Hospital throughout the break for students who will be here in Lexington. Blanton also said UHS would remain open for much of the break and continue offering testing as well. The on-campus testing site by the 90 will close once the semester is over and will not reopen until the start of move-in for the spring semester.

Blanton said the school would be communicating with students throughout the next week encouraging them to test and schedule their test in a timely enough manner to receive their results before heading home. It can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to receive results, so students should be aware of that delay when scheduling.

Asymptomatic students who wish to get tested can schedule their appointment through Wildhealth . Symptomatic students can schedule their appointment through their Medicat portal in myUK.

Hannah McCoy, a junior nursing major, said she has decided not to get tested before heading home for the holidays.

“I am personally not getting tested before returning home, mainly because I will only be around family members that I am in contact with on a weekly basis, since I live in-state,” McCoy said.

However, she said if she does begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms any time soon, she will get tested. She will also get tested upon returning to UK in the spring semester, as the school requires.

McCoy said her family has decided to limit their gathering to only close family and continue to wear masks and social distance.

Alex Stavens, a junior political science major, said she isn’t getting tested either, but it’s because she has already had COVID-19.

When asked about what precautions her family would be taking for holiday gatherings, Stavens said, “It’s only my parents and brother so none are needed.”

Even though her family has limited their celebrations to only their close family , Stavens said that she still has some concerns about COVID-19.

“Somehow exposing my parents,” Stavens said, was one of her main concerns even though she is taking precautions like social distancing and wearing a mask in her daily life before returning home.

Lexi Nolletti, a sophomore neuroscience major, said she is planning to get tested before heading home and her family is taking additional precautions too.

“My immediate family isn't planning on meeting up with our grandparents or any other extended family members to protect them,” Nolletti said.

Nolletti said that she hadn’t seen many other precautions or recommendations from the school administration besides their push for exit testing, but she also said that she believes that is sufficient enough because she considers many COVID-19 guidelines to be self explanatory .

“So much of COVID safety is really common sense,” Nolletti said.

Jakey Blackburn, a sophomore biology major, said he was also planning to get tested before heading home, and family gatherings for his family are almost always less than 10 people so that wasn’t much of a concern or change for him.

However, he does plan on coming back to campus after the holidays, before the start of the spring semester.

“I plan on spending the majority of January in Lexington,” Blackburn said. “I’ll more than likely get tested [when I come back], depending on what I do over winter break.”

Blackburn said he would be sure to get his school-required test before classes the spring semester because he has some in-person classes.

Blackburn said no matter what, safety is a concern for him this holiday season.

“I have a couple concerns with COVID, most revolving around my family and friends back home,” Blackburn said. “I want to be as precautious as possible, so as not to give the virus to them.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, warned schools and students that travelling home for the holidays may only worsen the recent nationwide uptick in COVID cases during an interview with “CBS Evening News” last month.

"When you're talking about relatives that are getting on a plane, being exposed in an airport, being exposed in a plane, then walk in the door and say 'Happy Thanksgiving' — that you have to be careful about," Fauci said during the “CBS Evening News” interview.

Fauci, 79, said his own children have decided not to come home for the holidays since their parents are considered in the high-risk age group.

The CDC has also released guidelines for holiday gatherings guidance on hosting and attending events, who should come to gatherings, how to safely serve food and a wide range of other factors to consider this holiday season.

“Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread,” the guidelines read.

For Thanksgiving specifically, the CDC has broken down typical Thanksgiving activities based on their categorization as low risk, moderate risk or higher risk for COVID-19 exposure.

Some low risk activities include having a small dinner with those living in your household, shopping online, providing meals to those neighbors who may be at higher-risk and delivering them without face-to-face contact.

Moderate activities may be having a small outdoor dinner with those in your community and participating in other outdoor activities like pumpkin patches or small sporting events while following social distancing, sanitation and mask guidelines.

Higher risk activities include going shopping at crowded shopping centers and attending large gatherings with people outside your household.

For more guidance on how you can stay safe this holiday season, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#holiday-celebrations.