What should you take to college to be prepared for Covid-19 in your classrooms, dorms, rec centers, and hangouts? Here's a packing list, with advice, for returning to college safely.
College Packing List for a Pandemic
Spray Hand Sanitizer
7th Generation Sanitizing Wipes
7th Generation Sanitizing Spray
Germ Guardian Fan
Disclaimer: nothing can protect 100% against contracting Covid-19.
Below, I expand on each recommended item and its usefulness to returning to college as safely as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cloth Masks Minimize Transmission
Cloth masks work. Here's a graph from the New York Times showing the infection rates for places where most people wear masks in public and where most people don't. Mexico, Europe, and Canada have Covid-19 mostly under control thanks to masking, while infections are skyrocketing in the U.S. and Brazil.
Early in the pandemic, public health experts warned against masks because of fears that healthcare workers wouldn't have any N95 masks if the public bought them up. However, doctors and health agencies in other countries soon began reporting that even simple cloth masks reduced transmission rates dramatically.
Public health experts have since urged people to wear masks. Masks don't protect you from inhaling germs, but they protect others from your exhales. If everyone wears them, then everyone gets protection. The key to getting others to wear masks is to normalize wearing them by, well, wearing them.
Spray Sanitizer as Alternative to Gels
Spray hand sanitizer isn't as greasy and harsh as the gel sanitizers we're used to. The spray also mists over your hands, covering them more thoroughly.
We've been keeping a bottle of spray hand sanitizer in each of our vehicles, nestled in a cup holder where we can press the trigger and spray the germy hand without touching anything.
Especially if you're not a fan of Germ-X or similar gels, spray hand sanitizer is a must.
7th Generation Sanitizing Wipes Kill Covid Naturally
7th Generation Sanitizing Wipes are on the EPA's list of cleaning products that kill Covid. You have to search the list by EPA registration number rather than brand name, but many 7th Generation products are on the list.
We've used 7th Generation products for a long time. Their wipes tend to be moister than Clorox or Lysol wipes, so they last longer and clean better. Their scent is also less harsh than other wipes thanks to their all-natural formula.
Since the pandemic began, we've been keeping a canister of 7th Generation Wipes in each of our vehicles and using them to clean our credit cards after going through a drive-thru or pumping gas, the cups of coffee baristas hand us, our door handles, steering wheels, and gear shift, and more.
Kill Covid with less noxious, portable, all-natural wipes? Sign me up.
Sanitizing Spray for Large, Hard-to-Clean Surfaces
7th Generation Spray Sanitizer is great for large, hard-to-clean surfaces. The spray mists over the surface and covers difficult-to-reach nooks and crannies, and it can quickly and easily cover a large surface area.
A couple of times, we've taken advantage of Panera's curbside pickup and then eaten our food at one of their outdoor tables. We use our 7th Generation Wipes on the table top and the 7th Generation Sanitizer Spray on the chairs since they're harder to wipe down.
The sanitizing spray can be especially useful for cleaning the keyboard and mouse at the computer lab, the desk at the library, or the chair at the campus Starbucks. If you get tired of wiping the door handles in the dorm, you could quickly spray them instead.
Germ Guardian Fans Purify Dorm Air
The Germ Guardian Fan is pricey, but it may be worth the investment for more protection and peace-of-mind. It has a high-performance, cleanable filter that catches fine dust particles and a UV light that kills microbes in the air passing through the fan.
We bought a similar TheraPure Fan a few years ago, and we liked it so much that we bought two more for different rooms. The fan is quiet but can cool a whole room. The filter cleans easily with a vacuum. But the Germ Guardian has the same features at a cheaper price.
If you're especially worried about breathing the same air as your roommates, then the Germ Guardian Fan could be a good investment. Nothing will protect against infection 100%, but I would feel better with something filtering the dorm air as opposed to nothing.
Sneeze Guards for the Dorm, Library, and Computer Lab
Sneeze guards can provide even more protection in the dorm room, and they're portable to the library, computer labs, study rooms, and other places where you can't easily maintain six feet of physical distance.
It looks like a pain to transport. But if you're especially vulnerable, then it may be worth hauling a sneeze guard to place between yourself and the person at the lab computer next to you or across the table at the library.
Face Shields for the Library and Computer Lab
If carrying a huge sneeze guard seems like a good idea but a very unappealing effort, then you should consider a face shield. It's like a sneeze guard for your face, protecting you from sneezes, coughs, or prolonged up-close talking.
Obviously, a face shield will also protect others from your exhalations. In tightly packed places like computer labs, a face shield may offer more protection than a mask. Or better yet, a face shield can be worn over a mask.
Situational Awareness Protects Against Germs
Situational awareness refers to your conscious awareness of the environment around you, the actions of others, and your own actions. It's not an item to pack, but without it, nothing else you pack will do much good.
Before the Pandemic
Before the pandemic, I inserted my credit card into the same chip reader as a thousand other credit cards that day, put my card back in my wallet, pulled it out again whenever I needed it, and never thought twice.
Before the pandemic, I pumped gas and never thought about sanitizing my hands afterward. I walked into the station to buy coffee and never paid attention to what part of the door I touched or which hand I used. I didn't think about what I touched in my car afterward.
Before the pandemic, I used the classroom computer without ever thinking about sanitizing the keyboard beforehand or my hands afterward. I stood in long lines at the campus Starbucks.
After the Pandemic
After the pandemic, I wipe my credit card down with a wipe before putting it back in my wallet. Every. Single. Time. I. Use. It. Then I sanitize my hands.
After the pandemic, I realize that I just touched the car door after pumping gas, and I pull out a wipe and sanitize the handle and then my hands before touching anything else. I try to touch the parts of the door less likely to be touched, and I remember which hand I used.
After the pandemic, I spray down the keyboard and mouse of the classroom computer before touching it, and then I sanitize my hands before gathering up my belongings to leave. I see a long line, and I decide to come back later.
To use the items on this list, you'll need to be aware of your environment and your actions within it.
Situational awareness is the most important thing you can take with you to college this fall.
Eric Sentell teaches writing and rhetoric. He is the author of How to Write an Essay like an Equation and Become Your Own Fact-Checker.
Learn more about his work, sign up for a newsletter, and get free excerpts at www.EricSentell.com.