Health officials urge college students to follow guidelines to stop the spread, stay in school

College students in La Crosse are starting to return back to their campuses after they suddenly had to leave this Spring.  With thousands of people expected to be back in the coming weeks, health officials are worried about the potential for more COVID-19 cases.

With the tough end to junior year behind her, Viterbo University student Lauren Ostrem is ready to be back for senior year.

“I was excited to get back, though yes, I’m a little nervous from seeing everybody move back,” said Ostrem, who is majoring in theater tech and design major.

It’s a bit nervewracking, but she feels better knowing there are some rules in place, especially because she’s living on campus.

“The toleration is going to be pretty low for the masks and guest policy situation on campus,” Ostrem said.

Residential students must wear masks in common spaces, guests will not be allowed for the foreseeable future, students must stay physically distant from each other and go through daily health screenings. The school’s website says it will be reducing occupancy in all common spaces. In most buildings, lounges will not be able or have reduced occupancy to reduce the risk of exposure.

Viterbo University has also prepared for potential positive cases and has a plan to quarantine students. The La Crosse County Health Department said during a Friday press briefing that it has worked with area colleges to plan for case investigations, contact tracing and isolation.

Still, it’s unknown how some might react to these new restrictions or if they’re willing to be responsible off-campus.

Ostrem says she’s been careful and doesn’t plan to go out for drinks anytime soon. She turned 21 in March but hasn’t been out to celebrate.

“I will be waiting until all of this is taken care of to go downtown and actually enjoy it,” Ostrem said.

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of Mayo Clinic Health System said he’s had to have this kind of conversation with his own daughter. She just went off to college in Omaha, where he said there have already been a few cases. Because others were not wearing masks around those people, they had to quarantine too.

“They’re in their dorm rooms not being able to leave their dorm rooms for two weeks,” said Dr. Fitzgerald.

So his message for other students is clear– before you take risks, remember what life has been like for the last few months.

“You have to follow some of the guidelines and the rules that may seem a little bit overly strict for people of that age group, but will allow you to stay in school instead of coming back to dad’s basement,” Dr. Fitzgerald said.

That could happen to some Viterbo students. The university said anyone who violates the rules could be removed from their assigned housing.

There are ongoing efforts to stop the spread with students once they return to the area. The health department said it has been working with area partners to find ways to better market masks to students.  They are prepared to hand out 6,000 masks with a few designs and styles to students in the downtown area in the coming weeks.