Across the world, university students have been asked to stay indoors to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. How can your institution support students during this difficult time?
Unfortunately, coronavirus outbreaks have occurred at many universities across the world, giving staff no option but to ask students to remain in their accommodation until cases begin to fall.
In September, around 1,700 students at a UK university were asked to self-isolate after 127 students tested positive for COVID-19.
The BBC reported that, “students at two… accommodation blocks have been told to stay in their rooms for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.”
Tensions were high, with students disappointed that they weren’t receiving the higher education experience they expected, and universities having to make difficult decisions in the face of an unprecedented situation.
As the end of term approaches, the high number of coronavirus cases amongst university students in some countries has led to rising concerns over whether this will cause further spread as students return home for the winter period.
In fact, the UK government recently announced that students will be given a six-day window between 3-9 December to travel home for Christmas, with mass testing carried out on campus before students can leave. If a student tests positive, they will need to self-isolate on campus for 10 days before traveling home.
While it’s a challenging time for all, it’s clear that students who quarantine in student accommodation will certainly need additional support from their institution.
Here are just several ways your institution can protect the mental and physical wellbeing of students who are isolating.
Living in isolation for several weeks can be an uneasy experience for students.
Regular communication with those in authority at the institution, including clear instructions and guidance, will reassure students that their situation is being managed and is a significant priority.
The University of Reading in the UK have developed a COVID-19 dashboard where case figures are updated regularly, and students can find information on the next steps to take if they have been exposed to or contracted the coronavirus.
Students also have direct contact with a COVID-19 Support and Behavior team, “if they have any welfare queries or concerns, either for themselves or for another student.”
While coronavirus outbreaks on campus present several uncertainties, it’s important that students are given a timeline that maps out likely stages of the isolation process.
Knowing an end point for their isolation can help students to manage the experience better, yet it’s important that students are also kept informed of any potential changes to this timeline as soon as they arise.
Physical and mental wellbeing
It goes without saying that students who have contracted the coronavirus and are quarantined in accommodation may need medical assistance at some point in their journey.
While young people generally experience mild cases of the coronavirus, those who have underlying health conditions are considered vulnerable regardless of age.
Ensure students know how to access the medical assistance they need and are aware of symptoms that might indicate the worsening of the coronavirus.
It’s not only the physical heath of students that universities need to protect, but their mental health as well.
At a university in the US, cases quickly reached over 1,800 after students returned to campus, forcing many into isolation.
Zoie Terry, a sophomore at the university, told the New York Times, “One thing that needs to be taken care of more is the mental health aspect of it all because it is very, very scary having coronavirus.”
She continued, “We’re college students. We just moved away from our homes and it’s very stressful.”
Having an emotional support helpline can provide students with an outlet to share their concerns, as well as a space to seek advice on how to manage these anxieties.
With university usually being a sociable time in the lives of students, it can also be difficult for students to be without friends and family for an extended period.
Encourage students to plan online events with fellow students so that they can stay connected and socialize safely.
For many students, the ultimate goal of attending university is to access further education and to prepare for the competitive graduate employment market.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented several barriers to the education process, restricting in-person teaching, putting a stop to important events and meetings, and limiting research projects.
Institutions need to ensure that students who are asked to self-isolate can continue to study with no further disruptions, securing access to a quality internet connection and the study resources they need.
At the University of Exeter in the UK, a temporary library service has been established to assist self-isolating students.
Students can complete a print material form and in turn receive links to e-books or online articles; PDF scans of chapters, articles, or pages; audio-visual material; and other reference material.
While placing students in quarantine might prevent further spread of the coronavirus at your institution, the decision to do so should come with great consideration for the mental and physical wellbeing of these students, as well as a plan to protect their access to education.
For more information on how students are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, please see our latest report: COVID-19 in Higher Education: How Current and Prospective Students are Adapting.