Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team

Going back to school is an exciting feeling: you once again become independent from your guardians and get to see old friends. However, circumstances are different this year. As you probably know, some schools have experienced outbreaks because the students and staff have disregarded social distancing protocols, which have only been weakly enforced.

To ensure you get as much of the university experience as possible, follow these tips to ensure that you and the people around you are safe & healthy, you are packing properly for your campus life, and you know the health care resources available to you. 

Before getting into the tips of leading a successful school life during a pandemic, there’s one thing that should help make the move be a bit smoother. If you are trying to limit your contact with the outside world, now’s the best time to get your birth control delivered for FREE so you can #SkiptheTrip to the pharmacy!

If you relied on public transportation to get around your school’s town and are now afraid to use it consistently, getting your birth control delivered will help you save the time and energy of going out. We’ve even got you covered if you’d like to transfer your prescription or change your address — you’ll never run out of birth control on our watch!

Control The Web

The most important point to consider when going back to school is how you can control your web. You may be asking what a web is and how it has anything to do with keeping yourself safe. A web is a metaphorical representation of your social circle and the people you interact with as well as the people your friends hang out with, and so on.

A common mistake is a person saying that they only see five people on a regular basis, however, you don’t know if those five people are seeing other people. So, even though you’re seeing five people yourself, you are indirectly exposing yourself to an unknown amount of other people outside of your circle. This web can continue growing if those five friends and their additional friends are seeing their other friends, and before you know it, you’ve potentially exposed yourself to dozens of people.

So, how can you prevent your web from getting out of hand? Your best option is to find a group of your “ride n dies (RND),” meaning that you find a social circle in which everyone is committed to only seeing each other. Your RND circle can be a maximum of ten people but it’s safer to keep the numbers as low as possible.

It’s best to do this with your roommates, if you have any, and have your roommates collectively agree on an additional housing area where your RND circle can hang out. That way, you can still have a small social group to interact with to keep a healthy mindset for the school year.

No More FOMO!

It’s hard to see people on social media ignoring these guidelines and continuing to go to parties and large gatherings, but just know that there will be other events in the future for you to attend. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real concept that a lot of students experience as they want to live their school life up to their expectations and are afraid of missing out on “quintessential college” opportunities; however, we as a collective must embrace that FOMO as a part of this year’s school life. 

It’s up to us as individuals to take on these safety protocols so we can resume our normal life as quickly as possible; if we chose to ignore these guidelines, we might miss out on our entire school career because of our careless actions. That means that you’ll be dealing with FOMO for a lot longer than you wanted to.

Worry not, your RND circle doesn’t necessarily mean those are the only people you can see; rather, it’s the circle of people who you can be mask-free with. If you would like to see others, it’s best to set boundaries with people who aren’t in your RND circle to keep everyone safe. This entails both parties wearing masks and standing six feet apart from each other; it’s also a good idea to meet in an open area rather than in an enclosed space.

If you use disposable masks, consider switching to a more environmentally-friendly one like these DIY masks! Remember that wearing masks isn’t a guaranteed protection from COVID-19, so attending a gathering with more than 30 people will still put you and others at high risk. Just scratch the idea of attending large gatherings and work on interpersonal meetups where you have control of the distance between you and the other person.

Don’t Be The Reason 

Don’t be the reason everyone has to leave their campus and go back home. Be mindful of how your actions can have a domino effect on a larger scale. Remember that it’s most likely not going to just be you who gets sick, but those in close contact with you who may also contract the disease. It might not even stop there if you and your friends walk around those two weeks unknowingly carrying a virus that can spread to your family or coworkers.

It’s not fair to punish others because of your own actions. Take precaution when returning to school and before attending a gathering, think of the possibility of someone there having the virus. If you take the proper precautions, you won’t have to worry about moving out at all! If you haven’t started packing yet, keep reading to find out what to pack for the school season based on the experience of some of our Pandia Health interns!

New Experiences

Daisy, Media Specialist Intern, Syracuse University:
Going back to school was a whirlwind of emotions. I am one of the lucky ones who got to go back to campus this year. I am so thankful that I am able to attend classes in person but, as a control freak, the idea of not having any certainty of finishing my semester in person makes me beyond anxious. Luckily, my school has made it past the two week mark that other universities have not been able to achieve; I am proud that my school is doing everything in its power to keep students and staff safe – from testing waste water to supplying students with thermometers.

College may look a lot different this year but, in a way, I have found myself to be happier than I was during my first year of college. I am more in the groove of things, I have strong relationships with people, and there is a sense of community where I am living. It is also a plus that I am surrounded by nature and have the opportunity to go to lakes nearby. Having this outlet helps take away some of my overwhelming stress caused by loads of school work and my desire to control everything around me. 

Iris, Content Creator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
I had done communal living for two and a half years before COVID-19 sent us back home and I knew that I was done living on-campus when we were presented with the fall semester outlook. I juiced some sweet memories from my time on campus but off-campus living was calling my name. The uncertain on-campus experience eliminated the sense of community I felt when cooking, living, and studying with friends, and I did not want to put my health in the hands of my peers.

Coming from a school with a party culture, the best option seemed to grab my five close and responsible friends, and move off-campus. We cook for each other, show up to classes together (virtually), help each other with homework, and keep each other in check to abide by Massachusetts COVID-19 restrictions. I do feel FOMO sometimes, especially since I gave up the opportunity to take my last lab classes in person, but I know I can have a great time deepening my close relationships. My school itself is handling COVID-19 really well by testing students twice a week and implementing hard restrictions so my fears of on-campus living haven’t come to fruition. I’m still grateful I get to use a kitchen instead of being forced to be on a meal plan. 

What to Pack

I did not pack nearly as much as I did last year because I am unsure whether we will last until the end of November. Of course, I am hoping we will, but given the track record of other universities, my expectations are low. I went with what I knew I needed, like some sweatshirts, different types of bottoms, sneakers, etc. Considering that I essentially brought my whole closet with me last year, it was not hard to pare down on what I brought with me this year.

Aside from clothing, I also brought some art prints to hang up to add some “homeiness” to my living space. Even though the doubts of making it to November linger in my mind, I would much rather put a few hours of work into making my space feel comfortable than live in a bare walled room – it’s what brings me joy. As Marri Kondo would say, “Does it spark joy?” If anything you are packing does not serve a positive purpose, consider leaving it behind for a few months. 

Not only should you pack clothes and decorations, but be sure to bring any other essentials like your medicine. Forgetting your birth control can be a real pain – as is having to physically go to the pharmacy right now. You are better off skipping the trip to the pharmacy and getting your birth control delivered for free with Pandia Health. We ensure your packs are delivered on time and hassle-free. Better yet, you also get some free swag like candy, and who doesn’t love some free things (especially as a college student)?!

If you’re mostly online, I suggest investing in leggings or comfy clothes. If you’re in the Northeast like me, you won’t be needing all those winter clothes as much so make space in your suitcase and throw in a few extra tank tops for Zoom University.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

By now you may know what the COVID-19 symptoms are like the back of your hand, but let’s do a little refresher just in case. After exposure it may take up to 14 days to develop some of these symptoms (however you can be an asymptomatic carrier so always wear a mask!):

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests calling for medical assistance if you:

  • Have trouble breathing
  • Have persistent pain or pressure on the chest
  • Have bluish lips
  • Cannot remain awake
  • Have new confusion

Make sure to call ahead if you are concerned you may have COVID. In order to protect others, and yourself if you don’t actually have COVID-19, many medical centers and urgent rooms are asking that you let them know before showing up. Your school may have a medical center or even a hotline for COVID-19 specific concerns so be sure to save that number into your phone now in case of an emergency. If you have a primary care provider, you can reach out to them directly with your concerns, and even get a COVID-19 test scheduled. 

If You Have COVID-19

Different colleges may be handling this situation differently; you may be sent to a different building or left to fend for yourself. CDC guidelines suggest staying hydrated, monitoring your symptoms, isolating within your home and avoiding the use of shared items. Wash your hands, clean all surfaces, sneeze and cough into your elbows, all that good stuff. 

Taking Care of Your Health, Beyond COVID-19

Anxiety and COVID-19 are occupying most of our minds these days. But what about the other aspects of health? Don’t forget to take care of yourself during this time. Maintain healthy eating and exercise habits and, if anything is concerning, reach out to a doctor. You should still call 911 if you have another medical emergency, or set up an appointment with your OB/GYN if you’re running low on birth control.

Because of the pandemic, telehealth is on the rise and many of your health care needs don’t have to wait. If you live in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, NV, TX, TN, PA, WA, or WY you can make an appointment to get a birth control prescription from the comfort of your home with one of Pandia Health’s experts doctors.

Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.