In the attempt to flatten a growing curve of new coronavirus cases, the government has requested that all higher education institutions will operate under Level 3 of the phased health plan for at least 2 weeks. UCC was set to reopen through a model of blended learning and strict adherence to health guidelines on Monday 28th September until the government announcement late Friday evening dashed hopes of returning to campus.
Intended to prevent the virus from once again gaining a foothold in communities, the enhanced public health protection measures focus on “limiting the cross country movement of students and avoiding congregation of large groups on campus,” the Irish Universities Association (IUA) has said.
The enhanced measures will remain in place at UCC until Friday 9th October. During this two week period, the majority of all lectures shall be delivered online with the exception of pre-existing arrangements made for lab-based, clinical and practical-based teaching. All research activities can continue.
The Mardyke Arena, the Glucksman Gallery, Áras na MacLéinn and all cafés on campus including the New Bar are entitled to remain open subject to existing infection control measures. Similarly, with adequate social distancing and the mandatory use of face coverings, Boole Library will also remain open at a level of reduced occupancy. There remains just 850 seats.
Any events scheduled to occur on campus until 9th October, including social and societies activities, will be postponed, cancelled or take place virtually.
In an email addressed to all staff and students, sent to update them of the enhanced public health measures, Interim President Professor John O’Halloran said: “I realise you have been looking forward to the start of term on campus and the latest national guidance, coming at short notice ahead of the start of the academic year, may be unsettling. UCC is committed to support you through these challenging times.” Mr O’Halloran expressed his gratitude for the patience of the community as the latest public health advice is implemented.
UCC campus and its spaces for work, learning and study had been transformed into socially-distanced and regulated areas for the expected return to campus on Monday 28th September. Over 5,000 safety signs had been installed across campus, with 10,000 face coverings so far distributed between staff and students. To support the resumption of campus life, a COVID-19 safety support team—to be made visible on campus in bright green jackets—had been launched alongside a joint social media campaign with UCCSU.
The COVID-19 Community Charter, a set of principles to affirm the shared responsibility of staff and students in keeping the community safe, was published this past week with commitments to respect health guidelines and avoid UCC campus if symptoms of COVID-19 develop.
The symptoms of COVID-19 vary, and have evolved over time as experts have studied the progression of the virus. Common symptoms include a cough, fever, breathlessness, a high temperature or a loss or change in the ability to smell or taste. If such symptoms develop, a test for COVID-19 is warranted and, if returned positive, all close contacts of the case will be traced by HSE Contact Tracing and told to restrict their movements for 14 days.
With adequate protective measures and social distancing, Cork City is able to keep the majority areas of economy and society open, this includes schools, pubs, retail and gyms. Although a rise in cases has prompted experts to issue a warning to the people of Cork in recent days. Dr Corinna Sadlier, an infectious disease consultant at Cork University Hospital, has said there is evidence of the virus spreading through community transmission – a “silent reservoir of virus circulating looking to jump from person to person.”
Dr Niamh Lynch, a paediatrics specialist at the Bons Secours hospital which occupies the space between Brookfield Health and Sciences Complex and the main campus of UCC, has warned that the number of cases recently seen in Cork match those of Dublin three weeks ago. The actions of the people of Cork during the next two weeks will determine whether or not the county will enter Risk Level 3 of the nation health plan, Dr Lynch has said.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn has spoken directly to young people in recent days, as 15-34 year olds have accounted for 40% of COVID-19 cases in the past 2 months despite accounting for just a quarter of the population. Mr Glynn has acknowledged that the increase is expected, as the age cohort must move around the community to work and study, but has asked young people to “be role models” and “to stick with this and continue to follow the public health advice” as “together, every safe behaviour counts.”
UCC Student Health can be contacted at (021) 4902311 and information about UCC’s response to COVID-19 can be found at ucc.ie/en/emt/covid19/. Updated national statistics can be viewed on Ireland’s COVID19 Data Hub at covid19ireland-geohive.hub.arcgis.com.