When it came to deciding whether his two college-aged kids would come home for Thanksgiving, Robert Lawton assessed the risk with military precision.
“We’ve been talking about Thanksgiving since April,” Lawton, 56, an Army veteran who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, told The Post. “We’ve tracked R0 values, transmission rates, fatality rates and vaccine news.” (R0 is an indicator of how contagious a disease is.)
Lawton’s daughter Molly, 20, is in school three hours away, while son Gary, 18, is just a 15-minute drive.
Ultimately, the stay-at-home dad decided not to let them come home at all. “We tried to explore every option: the kids quarantining themselves for two weeks, getting a rapid test, coming home and getting another test,” he said. “The tests aren’t reliable enough. Why take an unnecessary risk?”
Parents of college students have gotten mixed messages as the Thanksgiving break approaches. The CDC warned against traveling for the holidays amid rising COVID-19 rates nationally, but students at some schools, such as Syracuse University, are being asked to move out of campus housing due to bans on in-person learning until after the holiday break. SUNY schools have required that students attending in-person classes, about 140,000 of them, show a negative test (the university is administering the swabs) to travel home. And last week, seven governors from Northeastern states urged colleges to test students on their way out of town and to pivot to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.
For some families, it’s simply unrealistic for college kids to not travel.
“If he doesn’t come home for Thanksgiving, he’ll be effectively homeless,” said Susan Windley-Daost of her eldest son, Ben, whose dorms at Minnesota’s Carleton College are closing for the remainder of the semester after Thanksgiving.
He plans to isolate for the 48 hours before and after he’s tested. If he tests positive, she’ll get him a hotel room near the school where he can isolate before returning home. If negative, she’ll drive the two hours from her home in Winona, Minnesota, and he’ll sit in the back row of her minivan, masked, with the air blasting for extra ventilation — it’s too cold to keep the windows open.
“The invasion of Normandy required less planning than getting my son home from college during COVID-19,” she said.
Closter, NJ, dad Stuart Meissner joked that he was readying his “hazmat suit” to “prepare for these walking petri dishes coming home.” It’s been a challenge for the attorney to figure out what to do to get his 20-year-old daughter, Caitlin, back from her off-campus apartment at Ohio State University.
“I’ve been talking to my ex-wife about it and reading a ton of articles. Our daughter is going to get tested before she leaves school and when she gets here,” said Meissner, 57, who plans to have her wear a mask inside for five or six days after she returns. “She’s not happy about it and there’s been some arguing,” he said, adding that he’s been warning his sophomore that a negative rapid test is not a license to party on campus.
“I’m encouraging her to isolate in Ohio even though she’s driving here because there’s a lag time once she gets the test back,” he said. “But she’s reluctant to do that since it’s her birthday, and she wants to go out with her friends.”
To make socializing at home a little safer, he tricked out his backyard with heaters for outdoor gathering. “There’s a pergola, an outdoor TV and a fireplace, and I feel comfortable having her friends hanging out there instead of inside,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lawton has found a way for his kids to spend the holidays together even if he can’t join them.
He rented a $500-a-month apartment near his daughter’s campus for both of his kids to live in and finish their semesters remotely starting in December, and he’s given them an allowance of $500 each to pay for decorations and food for the holidays. It also gets both of them off germy school grounds.
“If some knucklehead walks by and sneezes on my son in the dorms or he forgets to wash his hands, it’s game over,” said Lawton, who called his decision to “reinvent” the holidays “level-headed.”
He’s also encouraging them to try their hands at cooking a festive Thanksgiving dinner, including their own version of his prized apricot-glazed turkey.
“All of my recipes are online so I’ve sent them links to the Thanksgiving folder,” he said.
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