How UCT will report new cases of COVID-19 on campus

25 June 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear students and colleagues

Because of the high rates of community infection of COVID-19, more of us in the University of Cape Town (UCT) community now know someone who has tested positive. It is more important than ever that we each continue to do our part to protect each other – especially people who are more vulnerable to the disease. We recognise that many members of the UCT community are dealing with anxieties, pain and illness and some are grieving for loved ones who have succumbed to COVID-19. This is an extraordinary and painful time for many and I wish you strength as we go through the next months.

Before the lockdown took effect in March, UCT began issuing regular updates on our institutional responses to COVID-19. By May, we had reported that eight staff members and students had tested positive for the virus; these have all recovered fully. However, these reports did not include students in the Faculty of Health Sciences, or staff in that faculty who are joint staff members in the Provincial Department of Health (PDoH) or the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS).

In light of the rising infection rate, I am writing to explain how we will report new cases at UCT. We do not normally report on the health condition of UCT community members. However, we chose to do so with the COVID-19 cases for the following reasons:

  1. COVID-19 is a notifiable disease. We all need to know how prevalent it is in our UCT community, so we can provide the necessary care and support to students and staff members. We will not report the names of people who test positive for COVID-19. We will only make public non-personalised information as it is reported to us by UCT faculties and units. We remain committed to protecting the confidentiality of every individual’s health information.
  2. By reporting the facts as we receive them, we want to prevent the circulation of false or unverified information about the impact of the virus on the UCT community. We follow a stringent fact verification process to ensure accuracy.
  3. We want to promote professionalism and calm by assuring you of the support provided by Student Wellness Services, Organisational Health Services in the Department of Human Resources, and Occupational Health Services in the Department of Properties and Services.

To exercise leadership in how we respond to COVID-19, we all must provide responsible, accurate reporting and work together to manage the impact of the pandemic with compassion and care.

Anybody can contract COVID-19. Many who caught it have recovered fully. This is a time to show empathy and support to each other, because so many of us are affected by anxiety and physical stress. While physical distancing is necessary, we can show kindness in how we talk and treat each other, and through messages of support via phone, email or online messaging.

If someone is self-isolating to prevent the spread of the virus, please respect their right to confidentiality about their health status, without making assumptions about them. Most important is that we do not stigmatise each other or allow others to do so. We all need care, encouragement and time to rest and heal. Please remember the UCT services available to support your physical and mental well-being.

Since our last report on COVID-19 cases in May, there have been some delays and complexities in reporting new cases. We learned of additional cases involving UCT Health Sciences staff members and students working with the PDoH or the NHLS. These infections were reported officially to the relevant government offices, but not to UCT. Each of these cases were notified and contact tracing teams followed government protocol to identify and manage their contacts. Going forward, all cases involving jointly appointed staff and students will continue to be reported in this manner to the PDoH and NHLS, and not via UCT’s channels.

We have decided that cases of COVID-19 infection among Health Sciences staff and students performing health system work need to be reported separately from cases involving the rest of the UCT community, because UCT members in the health system group are at far higher risk of infection.

As a result, here are the new COVID-19 cases since we last reported on 14 May 2020:

  • 28 staff members in the non-health sciences UCT community have tested positive for COVID-19, with two recoveries so far. We are deeply saddened that three staff members have passed away from COVID-19 complications.
  • Five medical students in the Health Sciences faculty have tested positive for COVID-19. They are all engaged in their final-year clinical platform.
  • Four students in other faculties have tested positive.

UCT will update these figures on a regular basis.

As we plan for the phased reopening of the university, we all need to take collective responsibility for our safety as a community, by following safety and hygiene procedures. You must follow these practices if you are invited to return to campus. The Return to UCT Policy Framework, which will be released soon to the broader UCT community, provides containment strategies to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

Please stay safe and strong.

With kind regards

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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