Thanksgiving Travel Q&A – 11.16.20

Dear Badger Parents and Families,

As a follow-up to the message we sent last week, below is a Thanksgiving travel Q&A with Dr. Patrick Kelly, interim director of medical services and Dr. Sarah Nolan, director of mental health services at University Health Services.

Additionally, your students received a message today from Jake Baggott, Executive Director of University Health Services, to help them prepare for Thanksgiving recess and winter break.

Thank you for talking with your students about public health guidelines that help keep them, your family, and the broader community safe.

Find the latest, including information on travel and campus testing, on the UHS website.

In partnership,
Stephanie and Monica
UW-Madison Parent and Family Program


We know many students and their families are making important decisions about travel and the Thanksgiving recess. What factors should they consider?

[DR. KELLY] As the coronavirus continues to surge at dangerous rates around the United States and world, we urge every family to take this very seriously and strictly follow safety precautions. COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high throughout Wisconsin and across the U.S. Close contact with individuals outside of your household increases the risk of becoming sick.

When considering if your student will travel, it’s important to think about how much contact they will have with people they don’t live with prior to departure and during travel, as well as what your student’s plan is after the Thanksgiving recess.

For those students who choose to travel, we ask that they do not return to Madison until spring semester. For those who need to stay in Madison until the end of the fall semester we ask that those students do not travel for the Thanksgiving recess. Clinical students and any other students returning to in-person instructional settings, such as those in Law and Education, should pay particular attention to this guidance.

For students who choose to travel, what do they need to do now to keep their family safe?

[DR. KELLY] If a student decides to travel to be with family during Thanksgiving and winter break there are steps to take right now and while traveling that can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Practice safe behaviors. Students currently in Madison should restrict their movements as much as possible before they travel. When they must go out, they should wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, limit contact with individuals outside of their household, and wash hands frequently.
  • Get tested before traveling. On-campus tests are available, including the weekend of Nov. 21-22. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 19, a rapid test option will also be available on campus. Following the test, students should self-quarantine until travel.
  • Students should not travel if they have symptoms, are in isolation, or are in quarantine.
  • Travel in a personal vehicle with limited passengers if possible. Students should wear a face covering if they travel home with people who are not their roommates/housemates. Review the CDC’s site for up-to-date information:
  • During the break, strictly limit the number of people you see in person. This year, it is not safe to gather with members outside of your immediate family. Consider distanced or virtual gatherings to protect loved ones at home who are at high risk for severe infections with COVID-19.
  • Continue to self-monitor for symptoms. If your student develops symptoms while on break, consult a local health care provider regarding testing at your current location. You may find local testing options here:

What should students know about getting tested for COVID-19 before and after travel?

[DR. KELLY] Students should schedule a test five business days before travel to allow enough time for test results to be returned and for any potential follow-up from a UHS provider.

On-campus tests are available, including the weekend of Nov. 21-22. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 19, a rapid test option will also be available on campus.

After your student tests, they should restrict movement as much as possible until travel.

If your student tests positive or is identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive, they should not travel until they complete their recommended isolation or quarantine period.

If your student lives in a residence hall and plans to return to campus after Thanksgiving, they are required to quarantine upon return until they have received two negative tests, following the schedule set by University Housing.

Students who live off campus and plan to return to Madison after Thanksgiving should get tested before they leave and quarantine in their house or apartment once they return until they have two negative tests. They should be tested 3-5 days after return and again 10-12 days after return.

What should families do when students arrive home to stay safe?

[Dr. Kelly] The most cautious approach upon arrival home is for your student to quarantine for the first 14 days after arrival. This is especially important if there are vulnerable, higher risk individuals living in the home. Quarantining in the home includes:

  • Eating meals in a private space or outdoors with family at least six feet apart
  • Use separate utensils, glasses, and plates.
  • Use a separate bathroom from other family members. If not possible, disinfect the bathroom after each use.
  • Avoid physical contact including hugging, kissing, and shaking hands.
  • Wear a face covering and maintain a distance of at least six feet of physical distance when in the presence of others.
  • Restrict movement within and outside the home.

If quarantine is not possible, stay physically distant from family household members, wear a face covering – even indoors – and avoid close contact, including hugging and shaking hands, for the first 14 days home. You may also want to consider placing HEPA filter units in the home and opening windows to increase air circulation.

How can students staying in Madison stay connected with family?

[DR. NOLAN] Being away from family and loved ones during the holidays can be difficult. We encourage students to plan regular times to check in with their family members and friends. This can be through phone calls, FaceTime, or Zoom/Skype gatherings. We understand this is not the same as seeing each other in person but connecting in real time and hearing someone’s voice can help to relieve anxiety and bring joy. Scheduling a call ahead of time can give students something to look forward to and make students feel valued, which can also add to improved mood and feelings of connection.

When students return home from college, there is typically a renegotiation of expectations and setting new boundaries. What tips do you have for parents and families who are having these conversations?

[DR. NOLAN] Discuss expectations for behavior, boundaries, and following public health recommendations with your student before they return home. Acknowledge that this has been a stressful and challenging semester for your student and even though this is a break from academic work, it will not be like last year’s holiday breaks or a time to gather in-person with friends and family members who don’t live with you.

This is an opportunity to create new family traditions. Involve your student in helping your family come up with ideas for how you can make the holidays just as special even though they will likely be different. Ask your student how they intend to adhere to safe behaviors while at home and share your expectations for how you plan to keep everyone in the household safe and healthy which may include:

  • Practicing safe behaviors including frequent handwashing, face coverings, and physical distancing.
  • Strictly limiting the number of people you see in person. This year it is not safe to get together with all your friends and family.
  • Self-monitoring for symptoms. If anyone in your household develops symptoms, consult a health care provider regarding testing. Local testing options can be found here:

How can we politely decline invitations to social gatherings?

[DR. NOLAN] Spending time with friends and family is one of the most enjoyable parts of the holidays. However, this year, public health guidance tells us that we should not socialize or have close, in-person contact with those who don’t live in our household.

Be positive, honest and direct – for example: “It’s great to hear from you! We miss seeing you, but we’re avoiding in-person gatherings due to COVID-19 right now. How about we plan a virtual hangout?”

Here are more tips to navigate a challenging conversation.

How do we manage anxiety and feelings of loneliness? What resources are available to support student mental health?

[DR. NOLAN] We recognize this is a tough time for many, to hold the anxieties and stressors associated with this pandemic, while also balancing roles of students and family members. At home, it is important to validate your student’s concern about the future, frustration and worry about the uncertainty, and feelings of sadness and disappointment. At the same time, it may be helpful to remind them about the hopefulness of the future, the positive aspects of their life, and to help them come up with strategies to focus on the things that they have control over.

MHS will continue to support your student – are being conducted remotely, via phone or video. For more information, visit