When it comes to COVID-19 and the fall semester, it's probably wise to take a "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" approach. That's especially true if you're planning to live on or near campus when school starts.
With that in mind, here's a list of things you should think about before you return to school.
1. Know what your school offers in terms of medical treatment
Most colleges have an infirmary or health center where enrolled students can seek treatment. Often, these services are paid for with your health and wellness fee, so you're generally not required to pay for sick appointments at the time of your visit. However, you may need to pay for certain services, procedures, and medications.
Before you leave for school, check out your school's website to ensure you know where the health center is, when it's open, and what services are offered. Check back at the beginning of the semester to see if there are any updates on policies and procedures related to COVID testing and treatment.
2. Know how your insurance works
Obviously, you shouldn't hesitate to call 911 if you or a classmate is extremely ill or needs immediate help. Otherwise, though, having a basic knowledge of your insurance coverage can ensure that you're able to get treatment without accidentally running up enormous medical bills that you or your parents/guardians will have to pay off later.
Taking a few minutes to go over the following info can potentially save you thousands of dollars in medical costs:
- Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card. Even if you have the physical card, it’s not a bad idea to take photos of the front and back of the card and store them in your phone so you always have them on hand.
- Know where your insurance allows you to go for treatment and where it doesn't. Most insurers have lists of "preferred providers." Any providers not on the preferred provider list are considered out-of-network and can cost you big-time. Staying within your insurance network means that you will be probably be responsible for copays, deductibles, or other fees that are capped by your insurance plan. Going out-of-network may mean that you'll have to pay out-of-pocket for all of your treatment.
You can find your insurer's preferred providers by going on their website or by calling the number on the back of your insurance card. It’s a good idea to get the name of a primary care doctor, an urgent care facility, and a hospital near your campus in case you need treatment beyond what's offered by the school.
- If you have insurance through a parent or guardian, you should have that person's full name, birth date, and address for billing purposes.
3. Trade info with your roommate
Your emergency contact info will probably be on-file with your school, but if you become ill quickly, your roommate is probably going to be the first one to notice.
Swap phone numbers for each other’s parents/guardians or other emergency contacts just in case one of you should become sick. Alerting family members quickly can be an important component of helping someone get treatment.
If you're comfortable sharing additional info, it can be helpful to make your roommate aware of any special medical conditions, medications, or allergies that might impact your emergency treatment.
4. Have your emergency plan in place
If campuses should close suddenly, like many did in the fall, you’ll be able to deal with the disruption easier if you know what to do. Think through these questions before you move into the dorm:
- How will you get home if your school closes unexpectedly? Can you drive home, will someone pick you up, or will you take public transportation?
- If you’re not able to return home, is there somewhere else you can stay?
- Do you have enough money to get home quickly?
- What do you need to pack before you leave the dorm? Think about medications, your laptop, textbooks, and personal items. Don't forget a mask and hand sanitizer, especially if you'll be traveling on public transportation or carpooling.
5. Know which symptoms to take seriously and when to self-isolate to protect others
As we've seen over the last few months, COVID can affect people in a variety of ways. Some people become seriously ill, some have mild to moderate symptoms, and some people show no symptoms at all.
Under normal circumstances, you might try to power through your regular schedule with a cough or a slight fever, but keep in mind that your efforts to "soldier on" while potentially having COVID-19 could be putting other people at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms generally appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. If you experience any of the above, get in touch with your school's health care center or a local medical provider. Note that you should CALL before going to a treatment facility because there may be procedures you need to follow to avoid exposing others to COVID.
However, if you or a classmate start experiencing extreme symptoms, call 911 or go to an emergency room.
6. Stash away some just-in-case cash
If you need to leave campus quickly, you may need to have some available cash. You may need money for gas, bus tickets, meals on the road, or possibly even a hotel room. Cash, available funds on your debit, or a credit card will ensure that you’re able to respond quickly.
Being prepared is smart
Hopefully you won't need any of the info on this page, but if you do, at least you'll be ready.