With third-level students across the country resuming their college courses this week, thousands of young adults will be heading back to live in on-campus accommodation, despite COVID-19.
However, with such large numbers of people living in such close proximity, there are fears of COVID-19 clusters developing in some living quarters.
And you do not have to look very far to see some of the first academic COVID-19 clusters. Some 1,700 students in the Birley campus and Cambridge Halls at Manchester Metropolitan University have now been placed in lockdown. It comes after 221 students and staff members tested positive for the virus.
Students were told that they could go home if someone could come and pick them up. Otherwise, they must stay in their on-campus college accommodation.
Interviews with British news outlets have shown distressed students speaking to reporters through fences and gates as they are, effectively, locked in on campus.
Despite the Minister of Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, informing colleges across Ireland to move to online lectures for two weeks, as demonstrated by raucous party scenes in Galway earlier this week, students have already started to return to some of Ireland’s college cities.
So, what happens if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in on-campus college accommodation in Ireland?
Here are what some of Ireland’s leading universities told Extra.ie.
A spokesperson for Trinity College Dublin explained that all students living together will be considered one group.
This means that if one person is awaiting a COVID-19 test, all other students living with them in on-campus college accommodation will have to restrict their movements.
All students have their own bedroom so will be able to self-isolate both before and after their test results.
Students who test positive for the virus can travel home if it is safe for them to do so. All other students living with the positive case will be considered close contacts and will be tested in line with current HSE guidelines.
‘An Irish-domiciled resident may also return home without using public transport if they have previously visited their home within the last two weeks and if they do not pose a risk to any vulnerable individual in their home,’ the spokesperson explained.
‘If a student is unable to self-isolate independently in their own accommodation then they must move to a designated isolation area and will be directed in doing so by the Accommodation Office.
‘All the students who were sharing the apartment with the student who has contracted COVID-19 will be considered close contacts, so they will be tested for COVID-19. They will be contacted by the HSE who will organise the tests.’
University of Limerick
Students in studying Limerick will have to move into a ‘quarantine apartment or house’ for 14 days if they test positive for COVID-19.
‘There are 50 quarantine student bedrooms on campus at UL,’ a spokesperson told Extra.ie.
‘There are two apartments in each village to support containment in the event of an initial outbreak.
‘The remaining residents in the affected household cluster must self-isolate in situ for 14 days. The Village Management Teams are then on hand to facilitate and support students in self-isolation and in quarantine accommodation.
‘In the event of a large outbreak and students will be required to self-isolate in their own student bedrooms.’
There are also a number of supports in place for students in quarantine and self-isolating. These include 24-hour support, food delivery, ready meals, PPE delivery and delivery of medical and other supplies.
University College Cork
Students living in on-campus college accommodation in UCC will have to self-isolate in their room immediately if they develop COVID-19 symptoms.
The patient must then contact the UCC Health Centre or out-of-hours doctor South Doc for further instructions.
‘Any resident who develops symptoms and the other residents in their apartment will be given specific direction from a doctor,’ a spokesperson told Extra.ie.
‘UCC is on hand to provide assistance. Transportation for medical care is available.’
A UCC spokesperson explained that isolation facilities are available on-campus for college students who test positive for COVID-19.
The college appears to be taking the pandemic seriously and, earlier this week, suspended 11 students for breaching public health guidelines.
NUI Galway hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this week. However, the college has comprehensive plans in place in the event that there is a COVID-19 outbreak in on-campus accommodation.
Similar to other universities, the campus has isolation facilities available. However, students are being advised to isolate in their rooms.
Additional counselling services will also be available to students who test positive from the virus and their housemates.
‘In the event of a positive test the person is asked to self-isolate for 14 days in their room, inform those they are sharing accommodation with and those they were in contact with,’ the spokesperson advised.
‘The campus residences team are available 24/7 to that person and those sharing the accommodation, along with additional supports from the Student Counselling Service, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care services on campus.
‘Provisions are in place to provide ready-made meals, medical supplies and any other essential items required.’