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Gov. Charlie Baker has asked the state’s colleges and universities to test students for the coronavirus before and after any planned travel off-campus.
The recommendation comes just over a week before a planned Thanksgiving could bring a worrisome short-term dispersal of many young residents into and out of the state.
Baker asked colleges and universities to try to test even their students who live off-campus and commit to keeping students in isolation housing, should they test positive.
Better yet, Baker said, students — and everyone else — could simply limit or cancel travel with caseloads rising.
Massachusetts has over 70 residential colleges, with tens of thousands of students in greater Boston alone.
Normally, Thanksgiving brings about what Baker called an annual “migration” of those students home. This year, that mass movement could exacerbate community spread in far-flung precincts or bring it back to Boston.
During a press conference Wednesday, Baker repeatedly invoked troubling findings in Canada, where cases of COVID-19 surged after Thanksgiving celebrations in mid-October.
Most of greater Boston’s largest universities have already crafted complex Thanksgiving plans — designed to thread the needle between public-health risks and students who have felt isolation and loneliness on campus this fall.
At Boston College — hit with an early-semester outbreak — students voted on the question. In the end, B.C. offered them two options: stay in Massachusetts and return to campus for the end of the semester, or leave and not to return until the start of the spring semester.
By contrast, Boston University is allowing students to leave campus and come back — but only if they agree to isolate for seven days upon return and obtain negative results on three tests.
Baker acknowledged that his authority over private universities is limited; this guidance is not binding.
But he did make the case for its prudence, saying he hoped the plan will “help prevent thousands of students from traveling around the state, and over state lines, to potentially infect family members and loved ones."
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