Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Oct. 31

Don't let students spread virus over holidays

The dilemma faced by the Sadowskys is one shared by many Minnesota families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanksgiving looms in just a few weeks. While Sue and Alan Sadowsky’s eldest daughter can’t make it, their youngest daughter, a medical student in Chicago, wants to come home for the holiday. Although the Twin Cities couple was wary of the visit, they “couldn’t stomach” saying no.

The trade-off for getting to yes? Clear rules to contain the virus. Quarantining and getting a COVID test before hitting the road. Once at home, strict social distancing, wearing a mask even inside the house, and frequently disinfecting household surfaces. If their daughter wants to go see friends, the couple told her she had to stay with her friends for the rest of her visit before returning to Chicago.

What Sue Sadowsky calls their “little pod” approach isn’t ideal, but it’s the responsible thing to do to protect themselves and others. “We know it’s not foolproof, but we are doing everything we possibly can,” she said.

The precautions outlined may seem stringent, but few families have as much in-house expertise as the Sadowskys. Alan Sadowsky is a physician, and the couple’s eldest daughter is, too. Their thoughtful plan combines medical knowledge and parenting experience, and should inspire others when it comes to safely welcoming home a student.

As the pandemic worsens in the U.S., the homefront has become the front line against the virus. Daily case numbers nationally and in Minnesota have hit new highs, and hospitalizations have risen sharply. Universities, students, families — all have a vital role to play in stopping viral spread.

Too many college towns across the nation became COVID hot spots this fall when dorms reopened. While those in their late teens and early 20s don’t usually become seriously ill, they can spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable.

Thankfully, new data suggests students here are taking precautions. Case numbers have declined at Minnesota’s colleges and universities over the past month, according to a Star Tribune report. But many students go to school elsewhere, and the virus has proved its ability to hitchhike with travelers.

Universities across the nation should be prepping students and families now for safe departure, particularly since quarantining for at least 14 days before leaving is best. For example, Iowa State University officials told an editorial writer that they are “working on plans for semester-end testing.” Others, such as the State University of New York system, will require a negative COVID test before students leave.

In Minnesota, health officials have not recommended requiring a test for students at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses. One reason that a test is just a snapshot in time, and a negative may be incorrectly interpreted as a license to abandon precautions.

However, state health officials are underscoring the importance of students quarantining for 14 days before leaving campus and wearing masks at home. Other guidance is available at tinyurl.com/covid-campuses. In addition, a University of Minnesota spokesman said that a COVID-19 saliva testing program for students will launch soon, “through which every student on each of our five campuses has access to one free (mail-in) saliva test.”

COVID tests are also available to the public through private medical providers and at the Minnesota Department of Health’s community testing sites.

The holidays should spread cheer, not COVID. Plan now to make it so.

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Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Oct. 27

Leaders can't lose sight of opioid epidemic

It is understandable that you haven’t heard as much about opioid addictions and deaths recently. The coronavirus pandemic, the economy and political campaigning tend to drown out most other topics.

But no one should confuse a lack of discussion about opioids as a sign the devastation of the drug has lessened. It has gotten worse.

The Associated Press reports that after a one-year drop in 2018, U.S. opioid overdose deaths increased again in 2019, topping 50,000 for the first time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While national data isn’t available for most of 2020, the AP surveyed individual states that are reporting overdoses and found more drug-related deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials say it’s likely that the emergence of coronavirus and subsequent disruptions in health care and social safety nets, along with more economic stress, is fueling an increase in overdose deaths.

And the opioid epidemic is further complicated as more people are using methamphetamine in combination with opioids.

The drug, particularly the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, has killed nearly a half million Americans in the past two decades.

President Trump should be applauded for increasing opioid funding, but states lack the number of medical professionals needed to utilize all the money and too many funding programs are short term.

The administration has focused most of its attention on law enforcement. While trying to slow the flow of fentanyl from Mexico is necessary, emphasizing punishment of those who use the drugs runs counter to the goal of reducing the stigma of substance abuse and focusing attention on the fact addiction is a disease, rather than a crime.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s approach includes expanding insurance coverage for drug addiction, including requiring insurers to cover rehabilitation services and mental health treatment. And he supports building on Obamacare, not dismantling it, to give more insurance protection to Americans, particularly lower-income people.

The pandemic and the election will both come to an end, but the suffering opioids causes to so many families will continue and even grow if a focus isn’t put on removing the stigma of drug abuse, ensuring access to health care services and adequately funding those services long term.

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