Students and physicians associated with Texas A&M are weighing in on the coming winter break.

With the COVID-19 pandemic bearing down heavily on the country, Aggies and students across the nation must decide whether to stay home out of an abundance of caution, or mitigate risk in other ways while traveling. Many A&M students and their families will also be deciding how they might celebrate the holiday season a little differently this year.

Andrea Argenal, a biomedical sciences senior, said with COVID-19 affecting students now for over eight months, many have begun to ignore concerns.

“I think most people will be doing exactly as they would, without the pandemic honestly,” Argenal said. “I think at this point, people have kind of normalized COVID-19, and they’re not scared of it anymore as much as we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Their travel around the holidays will be the same as it was before.”

This comes as The New York Times reports a total of over 288,000 confirmed deaths in the United States due to COVID-19. The Times also reports that 1 in 19 residents of Brazos county have contracted the virus since January.

Garry Gore, a physician for Student Health Services, warns against traveling for the break.

“This virus is very easily dispersed when people travel in and out of areas with higher concentrations of infections,” Gore said. “Because so many people are asymptomatic, presymptomatic or minimally symptomatic while infectious, it is easy to feel fine but still infect many others through travel."

Julian Leibowitz, a professor at the A&M College of Medicine and an expert in various strains of coronavirus, said students who plan to travel over the break should take precautions.

“All of the guidelines that have come out from the CDC and the university, like wearing masks and avoiding small rooms with lots of people, are true,” Leibowitz said. “Try and follow the guidelines, it doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit. Wear a mask, it’s better to meet people outdoors than indoors. Use your common sense.”

This month, thousands of Aggies will celebrate the holidays, leaving families with tough decisions about how to handle gathering safely.

Argenal said her family has a solution.

“We are lucky enough that our family is down in McAllen and it doesn’t really get that cold,” Argenal said. “So the way that we dealt with thanksgiving is probably the way we are going to deal with Christmas and New Years. We are just all going to get together at somebody’s house, outside, and socially distanced between different people that live in different houses, wearing a mask whenever we’re inside.”

According to Argenal, her family will exchange Christmas gifts primarily through shipping gifts directly from a retailer to the recipient, thus minimizing necessary contact between households. Leibowitz said that gift exchanging, for the most part, is fairly safe.

“I think the risk of a virus being transferred on an object is really fairly small and you always have the option, if you want, of taking a paper towel and spraying it with some alcohol and wiping it down if appropriate,” Leibowitz said. “Or just letting it age for a couple days. At room temperature, viruses degrade.”

According to Leibowitz, enjoying a long winter break and the holiday season can be done safely and responsibly.

“People should use their common sense,” said Leibowitz. “The CDC guidelines and trying, though it’s hard during the holidays, to do some social distancing. It’s good advice. If you have symptoms or you have a high-risk of exposure, get yourself tested.”

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