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As In-Person Penn State Classes End, Students Strategize Safe Returns Home

Reem Abdou poses for a picture in front of the Nittany Lion Shrine.
Reem Abdou
Reem Abdou poses for a picture in front of the Nittany Lion Shrine.

Friday is the last day of in-person classes for Penn State’s fall semester. Some students plan to head home for the rest of the semester while others are returning after Thanksgiving break. Students also shared what they’re doing to try not to bring the coronavirus home to their families.

Senior civil engineering student John Kosko contracted the coronavirus at Penn State in late September. Now healthy for over a month, Kosko said his family in New Jersey is comfortable with having him home for Thanksgiving.

John Kosko poses for a photo at Penn State's THON.
Credit John Kosko
John Kosko poses for a photo at Penn State's THON.

“They even mentioned that I’m like one of the safest people to be around, just considering my immunity, so they were more inclined to want me to be home," Kosko said. "They know I have no chance of getting it, at the moment at least.”

Even so, Kosko got tested Monday through Penn State’s Departure Testing program. Assuming his test comes back negative, he’ll spend the week of Thanksgiving and the following week at home with his family.

But then it’s back to State College for Kosko. He said there are too many distractions at his parents’ house and from friends at home. Kosko will return to his off-campus apartment to finish out the semester.

“I plan on coming back just because I have a tough time doing work at home," Kosko said. "But being able to do work back here, just being outside of home, I’ll be able to focus more.”

Freshman engineering student Yanira Santillan does not have the same luxury. Since all freshmen must move out of their on-campus dorms by Sunday at 4 p.m., Santillan has no choice but to return home to Totowa, New Jersey.

Santillan will quarantine for two weeks once she returns home, well after the Thanksgiving holiday. She’ll sleep in the basement rather than her childhood bedroom, and eat turkey alone. Santillan said it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make to keep her grandparents and other family members safe.

“I won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving as I wanted to, but you know, have to do what I have to do, right?” Santillan said.

Santillan said she’s “very scared” of transmitting the virus to her grandparents, who live with her family. But rather than get tested on campus, Santillan said she will wait until she goes home to get tested.

“I don’t want to get tested here ‘cause I know that there’s the chance that I’d have to be quarantined here, and I really don’t want to do that," Santilaln said. "I’d rather quarantine at home.”

Sophomore architectural engineering student Clayton Geisel is headed home to Harrisburg today. After testing negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Geisel will be with his family for the week of Thanksgiving.

Once classes resume after Thanksgiving, he’ll return to State College. Three of Geisel’s four roommates also plan to return to town, and Geisel wants to spend more time with them.

“I feel like there’s less distractions up here, especially with people at home, and just seeing my roommates still since they’ll still be up here," Geisel said. 

Geisel plans to be in State College through finals week, and even with fewer students around, he looks forward to being back in town.

“Even though the campus will be closed, having just this area to walk around, it’ll be nice," Geisel said. "A lot less crowded, but still the State College experience which I love.”

Richard Smith poses for a professional photo.
Credit Richard Smith
Richard Smith poses for a professional photo.

Senior management and organization student Richard Smith is headed back to his home in North Wales, Pennsylvania and will stay there until the start of the spring semester. Smith just tested negative for COVID-19, and said he’s looking forward to spending time with family members he hasn’t seen in more than three months.

“I think there’s a time and place for everything," Smith said. "I think that being home, it’s time to reflect on how this semester went and rest and be with family because there’s time for that and I want to utilize that time.”

Smith doesn’t live with his grandparents, but said he’ll be visiting his grandmother who lives nearby. Smith doesn’t plan to socially distance or wear a mask when around his family, but he and his family members will follow COVID-19 health protocols in public.

“We do see my grandmother frequently, so we just definitely ensure that we’re healthy before we visit her," Smith said.

Freshman astrophysics major Reem Abdou is flying to her family’s new home in Houston, Texas on Saturday. Though Abdou said she’s “not excited” about the long gap in between time spent at Penn State, she understands why she’ll be home until mid-January.

"With everything going on, it’s like, what else can you do?” Abdou said.

But Abdou said she “wouldn’t mind” if Penn State decided to change classes to fully remote for the spring semester if it meant the university could find a way to make the rest of her college experience more like what she expected.

“If I can’t come back next semester, I won’t be mad if it means I can come back and have a relatively normal rest of my college," Abdou said.

Penn State plans to bring students back for in-person classes for the spring semester on Jan. 19.

The city of Houston, where Abdou will be returning from, has seen more than 92,000 cases of COVID-19, including more than 1,100 on Wednesday. The Houston Health Department currently lists the COVID-19 level in the city as “severe.”

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