SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- For college students hoping to travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is now an additional step you need to take before hitting the road next week.

The governor is now advising college students to get a COVID-19 test before they reunite with family.

Many local colleges were already suggesting this step for students, although it is not a full guarantee that a person is a COVID-19 negative.

However, they said Governor Charlie Baker's announcement might encourage students to take advantage of expanded testing options.

“The Commonwealth has updated our guidance to colleges and universities advising that any students leaving campus to go home for the holidays should first receive a negative COVID-19 test administered by the college within 72 hours of their planned departure,” Governor Charlie Baker explained.

Home for the holidays should now mean getting tested for COVID-19, according to Baker.

College students asked to get a test before they return too.

“After the holidays, when students return to campus, they need to produce a negative COVID-19 result administered within 72 hours of their return to campus,” Baker said.

“Much of our residential population went home a couple of weeks ago,” Springfield College Health Center Director Kathleen Hogan-Soltys explained.

She said around 500 students remained on campus after the school switched to full remote weeks ago. Now, the school has made it easier for those students to adhere to the governor’s advice.

“For the remaining students on campus, we’ve increased our testing to at least once weekly for the students,” Hogan-Soltys said.

She said they have isolation units set up for students who wish to quarantine if they get a positive result. However, Hogan-Soltys said they can't force a student to remain on campus if they do have the virus; it’s up to the student to make that decision.

The governor also warned students about making safe choices once they get home and have the chance to see friends again.

“I can't express how bad that is as an idea in terms of managing COVID and managing spread,” Baker said.

Western New England University’s health officials said they too have already been advising students to get tested for COVID-19 before heading home. Currently, only two of their students are in isolation units this time.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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