Communicating Risks to Foster Compliance

By Lindsay McKenzie, via Inside Higher Ed

Dinner Table Discussions

Rita Manfredi, an emergency physician at George Washington University Hospital, worries that unless students have been personally affected by COVID-19, they won’t take safety precautions seriously. While messaging about measures to prevent the spread of the disease are important, getting students to understand the risks should start in their homes through discussion with their family, said Manfredi.

“Students think that they’re invincible,” said Manfredi. While young people are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, they may experience unexplained chronic symptoms after getting sick, she said. There is also a serious risk they may spread the disease to their friends, their professors and, once they return home, to their family.

“We need students to understand that when they go back to college, it won’t be the same. But I don’t think they do understand that. I think they’re expecting to go back and live life as they did before,” said Manfredi. “Some students have been at home since March, and they are craving social interaction. How do you tell college kids, you know, you really shouldn’t be going to that bar or sports event because you won’t be able to drink without taking off your mask?”

Manfredi, who has a son who is preparing to go to college, recommends that families sit down for a “dinner table discussion” before students go back to campus. Parents should talk about safety measures, such as masks, social distancing, hand washing and regularly disinfecting surfaces. “Ventilation is also really important,” said Manfredi. She encourages students to open windows in their dorm rooms and instructors to hold classes outside, if possible. In addition to these measures, Manfredi wants families to discuss what should happen in the event that someone becomes seriously ill.

While uncomfortable, discussions about advance care planning are important and signify how seriously students should take COVID-19, said Manfredi. When young people end up intensive care, their parents often have no idea what their child’s wishes might be, which can cause a lot of stress and uncertainty about how to proceed, said Manfredi. It is a good idea for young people to know their parents’ wishes, too, she said.

“Students need to understand this is not just a flu.”