In a year that saw traditional holidays and celebrations adapting to the new norms forced by the pandemic, Thanksgiving and winter holidays loom as the final test. Los Angeles County health officials see a troubling rise in COVID-19 cases, and warn that it could get worse with Thanksgiving and the holiday break approaching.

In an email sent to USC students, faculty and staff, Dr. Sarah Van Orman, the chief health officer for USC Student Health, recommended traveling only if you plan to remain at your destination for the entire winter break; going back and forth to campus during the winter break is not recommended for community public health safety.

Rebecca Buxbaum, a USC master’s student in the teaching program, said she has not seen her family on the East Coast since stringent pandemic measures began in March. She said she was looking forward to seeing them on Thanksgiving, but decided it would be too risky.

“Because my family takes care of my grandmother, who is old, I’m not going to be able to go home for Thanksgiving,” she said. “By the time I got there and did quarantine, [it] would already be time to go. So that’s been kind of sad.”

For those who are returning home, Van Orman recommended quarantining for the first 14 days and remaining physically distant from family household members. “This is especially important if someone in the household is at higher risk for severe disease,” Van Orman said in her email.

Echan Keum, a sophomore majoring in film and television production at USC, said he plans to return to New Jersey and remain there for the winter break. Keum said he will fly back home to New Jersey, but he will not see his parents and family right away.

“As soon as I get back, I’m going to chill out at a hotel for like two weeks [and] do a quarantine there,” said Keum. “Once that’s over with, then my family will accept me.”

Keum acknowledged the mindset that he said most people in his age group have when it comes to preventing the virus' spread or compromising anyone’s health.

“I’m just going to be staying home for the most part because I don’t want to risk my parents' health,” said Keum. “I can’t meet up with my friends from back home and hang out, [or] have a friendsgiving or Christmas with friends.”

For some, the feeling of coming back home will not be the same as previous years. In Keum’s case, he said he feels like he will be stuck at home for the duration of his break.

“Being home, I feel like it’s just going to be a fully tight lockdown for me,” said Keum. “While I’m in L.A., I still have the liberty to hang out with friends and not have my parents be at risk.”

While the recent surge in COVID cases may discourage celebrating, some said the upcoming break will offer a chance to unwind and relax after months of virtual learning. Even though the upcoming holiday season might not be a traditional celebration, there are ways to celebrate safely. Keum said he plans to take part in a socially distant gift exchange with his friends and family.

“We could still do Secret Santa, just like a curbside drop off, so I feel like you really have to be creative to still do what you want to do,” said Keum.

Van Orman’s email strongly recommended that anyone who travels get tested and obtain their results before their departure. The same procedure applies to anyone returning to campus after attending gatherings. They are advised to get a COVID-19 test before re-entering the university community.

Whether they choose to stay in Los Angeles or decide to travel back home for the holidays, Van Orman said the one constant that remains is that students must ensure the health and safety of themselves and others.