University COVID-19 response faces backlash from students

The University COVID-19 response has received backlash from students
Cardiff University has received backlash from some students regarding its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Source: Jeremy Segrott (via Flickr)
The university COVID-19 response has been under scrutiny as many students wonder if the response is too little, too late.

By Zoe Kramer | Head of News

Less than a week into term, many Cardiff University students are already experiencing the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic, from continuous testing to self isolation and online classes. However, some argue that these measures have been implemented in ways that are confusing, ill-communicated, or simply inadequate.

“My house was one of the first houses to have a case in Talybont South,” says Talybont resident Jordana Thomas.

“We had no information from the university how this would work and what would happen for the rest of the house whilst one flat was positive. We had no contact about whether we need to self-isolate as we share the same hallways, stairwells and doors as well as passing members of that flat coming and going through the house.

“In the following days most of the house attended the university screening where slowly more people came back positive including two members of my flat. When we first went into isolation, we received no help or advice from the university, and we were really unsure as to how we would be allowed to do a range of things like take the bins out.  We all then received swab tests from the NHS, where a large majority, including myself, came back positive contrary to the negative tests from the university.”

Thomas adds that “The fact that for almost 10 days, we were all left in the dark on how we would be allowed to do basic tasks whilst in isolation made it a very stressful time alongside many of us being unwell due to the virus, it became difficult to want to focus on our studies especially as our modules begin setting hours of reading and pre-recorded lectures to attend.”

However, others believe that the University COVID-19 response id adequate, and that the University is doing the best that it can under the circumstances.

“I think that their response has been good, in comparison to what I have heard from friends in halls at other unis,” said another student living at Talybont.

“Although I have not had any symptoms, there have been many emails regarding testing opportunities. Many of my friends from home at unis elsewhere could not get a test even though they had symptoms.

“I don’t think there are many other ways they could have handled it differently. Although I do think they should have carried out asymptomatic testing of people on arrival and made it compulsory rather than leaving it for a few weeks,” they added.

The University has reported 55 new student cases as of the 13th of October, and a total of 1651 students who have been tested, leading some students to wonder if the University COVID-19 response should have gone into full effect sooner, especially as more of Wales enters lockdown.

Other parts of campus have been experiencing the difficulties of lockdown as well. Aberdare Hall resident Leila Da Cunha Soares says she has been in lockdown since the 7th of October. “Despite this, there was no offer from the halls or university about helping us shop for necessities like soap or antibacterial gel, checking we have everything we need, and to put our minds at ease (or to at least remove some confusion about a serious matter).

“There was no offer or information about sending a Covid 19 test to the individual who was showing symptoms- just to isolate. I hope you can understand that this seems a very impractical way of containing the virus- surely a test should be the first point of call, and at least the students can understand they are isolating for good reason.

“Information on what we can and cannot do has been practically non-existent. I have had to spend 5 hours today just calling people to get my basic needs met and I have heard nothing useful.

She concludes that she feels “scared, un-cared for and disrespected. I also feel like I am being extorted as I am paying a big fee to have to ‘privilege’ to live here and my basic human rights (being safe and clean) are not being met.”

A Cardiff University spokesperson has stated regarding the University COVID-19 response: “We recognise this is an extremely difficult, challenging, and stressful time for our students – especially those who have symptoms.

“We are working extremely closely with our partners, Cardiff and the Vale Local Health Board, Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Councils and Public Health Wales. This has allowed a proactive approach to be taken to testing where we have seen evidence of cases emerging.

“This has been focussed on Talybont where we have seen a recent rise in cases. Prompt and pre-emptive testing has therefore taken place with the deployment of a community nursing team from Cardiff and Vale LHB testing 600 symptomatic and asymptomatic students at Talybont South last weekend.

“From Monday an NHS Wales Mobile Unit has been in place. This is the first Testing Unit in the UK to be agreed solely for use by students.

“A walk-in local NHS Test Site is being built this week on Museum Avenue. This will increase capacity, once operational.”

In response to the issues in communication regarding isolation periods, the spokesperson stated “Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases, we are confident that our advice on self-isolation has been consistent throughout and in line with the latest Welsh Government advice.

“We would encourage all students to make sure they check for emails every day and visit the student intranet and Welsh Government website for the latest advice on self-isolation.

“We recognise that accessing food and clean laundry can prove especially difficult for those self-isolating in our residences. That’s why we have developed a new free laundry service and all students self-isolating in University Residences will receive £20 to spend with our student marketplace, so that they can obtain fresh food and other essentials.”

In terms of the future, many are hoping for changes from the University COVID-19 response. “I hope they make the asymptomatic testing an opt out rather than an opt in and offer it more often than every 4 weeks,” one student suggests.

“I hope for the university to have someone quickly delivering tests to these houses in lockdown rather than trying to find some online or going outside to a test centre to do so,” another Talybont student adds.

Thomas concludes, “I feel safe in the fact that I am young and well during this pandemic and understand that any higher measures may begin to affect people’s mental health, careers and on a wider scale the countries already battered economy. But I worry for the vulnerable during this time where cases are increasing and yet we see no help for them.”


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