Dear colleagues and students
The South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium and the Department of Health have confirmed that the third wave of COVID-19 case incidence has begun in the Free State and that we are rapidly approaching the third wave threshold nationally, especially with the onset of winter weather. Cases have risen again in the Western Cape and this province is expected to be in the third wave early this month. On Sunday, 30 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africans on the progress in the national effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and placed the country on adjusted Alert Level 2 with effect from 31 May.
The Department of Health has reported new COVID-19 cases among students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University in particular. Rondebosch and Mowbray, where many UCT students live, have been identified together as a cluster hotspot.
It is important to understand that mutations of the virus make it difficult to control
People who have had COVID-19 and recovered generally have immunity for up to six months, but after that time they become vulnerable to reinfection. And while many people remain vigilant against the pandemic, others are beginning to relax and are no longer following the protocols that reduce the chances of infection.
Updated information on testing for COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibodies, informing contacts, Isolation for patients with COVID-19 and quarantine for COVID-19 contacts is available on the webpage “UCT’s response to COVID-19” in the frequently asked questions.
The National Department of Health vaccination programme has started – but we must remain vigilant
UCT is co-operating very closely with the provincial and the national departments of health in supplying the relevant data for staff. Currently, the university is not participating directly in any vaccination programme, nor do we have any authority over who will receive a vaccination, or when.
Even receiving a vaccination is not a guarantee against getting infected. A COVID-19 vaccination can increase immunity and reduce the chances of getting a bad case of the virus. But people who have been vaccinated can still become infected with no symptoms or minimal symptoms, and spread the virus on to others.
Individual personal behaviour is still one of the most important factors in preventing the spread of the virus
The onset of the third wave does not mean we are helpless against the pandemic. As a community that cares for each other and our families and friends, we need to each take individual responsibility to help prevent a significant rise in the third wave. My appeal to you is that we all continue to take the necessary precautions:
All students who are not staying in residence and do not need to be on campus for academic reasons are strongly encouraged not to come to campus. This will help us to maintain low-density spaces. You are, however, welcome to use the study spaces on campus, which meet the health and safety protocols under COVID-19 conditions. Staff members are also encouraged to continue working from home where possible.
Study spaces and marshals will focus on COVID-19 safety
Students and staff members who are walking anywhere on campus or using common spaces are required to wear face masks, keep a distance of 1.5 m away from each other and sanitise their hands regularly. This is a health and safety necessity to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus – especially as the winter flu season approaches. The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or just breathe. Campus Protection Services (CPS) staff are monitoring campus spaces but the final responsibility for beating the pandemic relies on each individual taking the responsibility to help keep the campus community safe.
Dedicated study spaces on campus are monitored by trained student COVID-19 marshals. When you are not in one of these spaces or in another campus facility, please help keep UCT safe by continuing to wear your mask and keeping a 1.5 m distance from other people, even when outdoors.
Teaching and learning will continue to seek ways to maintain social distancing
Teaching and learning at undergraduate level will proceed as planned in those faculties that require students to be on campus for laboratory or tutorial work. Faculties that have decided to have invigilated examinations on campus will be able to proceed as planned unless Level 3 Lockdown is declared. However, alternative plans have been made to afford these faculties the opportunity to still have invigilated examinations under Level 3 Lockdown. This will be communicated to the faculties early next week. For those faculties teaching fully online, no changes are envisaged.
Should a harder lockdown be declared, access to campus and study venues will have to be controlled more strictly in order to keep a low-density campus. Students in faculties that require them to be on campus will be issued centrally with permits to be on campus. This process will be communicated at the time. The current booking system will exercise greater control over the number of students allowed into study venues.
Staff and students must complete the online COVID-19 induction programme and have letters of authority to be on campus
The online COVID-19 induction programme is mandatory for all staff members and students, even those who may have completed the induction last year. (It must be completed every year and a record is being kept of who has completed the programme online.) It is one of the ways UCT ensures that each of us knows how to prevent the spread of the virus while on campus. Colleagues who do not have online access or smartphones will need to contact their line managers to make an alternative arrangement.
Colleagues who are returning to campus for any reason still need to receive a letter of authority to do so. CPS colleagues may not ask to see it, however this document provides a way for us to monitor potential traffic on campus and in offices.
Remember that mental health support is available at UCT
We know that the stresses of COVID-19 affect not only physical health for those who contract the virus, but also the mental health of all of us who feel the strain of lockdown and seeing loved ones suffer or even pass away as a result of the pandemic.
UCT offers many forms of support to students and staff members who are feeling these effects.
Student Wellness Services (SWS) is a comprehensive primary health care facility that provides medical, counselling and social work services.
For staff members:
UCT Human Resources (HR) offers many forms of support.
HR support includes the coordination of services provided by the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS) and South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
Please continue to make it part of your daily routine to reach out to your colleagues, your friends and your family. Now more than ever, we need to work at building a sense of connection and a feeling of community.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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