Defining “Healthy and Safe” During a Pandemic

My dearest fifth born,

As I look back at your childhood, I am struck at how easy keeping you healthy and safe was when you were young (and I was young).

I would establish boundaries and limits, share them with you and your brothers and sisters, and you would mostly all listen. When you didn’t, I would think up a consequence that would connect your behavior or actions to the boundary you crossed and highlight why it mattered to your health and safety or the health and safety of others– sometimes me, yet most often your siblings and friends. My hope was that these consequences would provide a learning opportunity and over time you would grow to connect “cause with effect.” When you threw the toy or misused it, it was gone. Simple and effective. Those were the days.

And yet now, how does a mother prepare her college-age son or daughter to live a healthy and safe life amidst a pandemic? How can I help you define healthy and safe when the science seems to be changing daily, sometimes several times within the day? How can I help you and your housemates communicate around setting boundaries during COVID–for yourselves and each other? What have I learned by watching your older siblings as they navigate these challenges with their housemates? Who are the experts I can call on to help me, help you? And finally, what have I learned along the way throughout these last six months during the pandemic? 

I’ve learned it isn’t easy. I’ve learned that I don’t always know what to do or how to do it. I’ve learned that I have biases that cloud my judgment about what is safe, and so will you.

So to help me see through my cloud, I reached out to a friend, a professor at Columbia University Medical School in NYC, who lived, taught, and practiced through the COVID 19 outbreak. She was a Godsend and helped me create this list.

  1. Take a COVID test with negative results before moving in.
  2. Follow the most up-to-date mandates by the university, town, and state and wear a mask when outside the house, especially when in close proximity, and wash hands immediately upon re-entry to the house.
  3. All gatherings are outdoors w/ social distancing and masks.
  4. No guests allowed to use the bathroom, yet if there is an exception, make sure the bathroom is wiped down/disinfected.
  5. Consider taking temps daily, although not much enthusiasm for this one. 🙂 The thought process is that as the young men/women’s pod increases in size with outsiders, their likelihood of getting virus increases. A temp is one way to catch it early. We will send a Contactless Thermometer. 
  6. If close friend/study group member or significant other of one of the housemates is COVID-positive, that mate either self-quarantines for 14 days and follows the guidelines below or if a local, will go home and self-quarantine.
  7. If one of you is displaying symptoms:
    •  Alert all friends of a possible link to a COVID positive friend.
    •  Get tested within 24 hours (University Health Services).
    •  Self-isolate in your own room until the results of tests are conclusive (or go home).
    • No visitors in the house.
    • Wear a mask if interacting with people coming into your room or to use the bathroom.
    • Visitors bringing in food for isolated mate wear gloves and mask and use hand sanitizer.
    • Only housemates use the bathroom,
    • Space out bathroom visits, with quarantined housemate to use the shower at end of day so possible particles have time to disperse.
    • Fan always on and window open in the bathroom.
    • Spray disinfectant and wipe down door handle, sink, etc. after each use.

Now it’s your turn. Make it a great year. Knowing you, you will absolutely make that happen.

I love you,


Amy Hilbrich Davis is a member of the Advisory Council and parent of a junior majoring in Math and Engineering