Dear students and colleagues
I am writing about a recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in and around the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Most UCT students and staff members have exercised good sense in avoiding spaces and places where they could be more exposed to the virus. They are diligent about following protocols such as wearing masks, physical and social distancing, and sanitising or washing hands and surfaces.
I want to thank each of you who has taken their personal and community responsibility so seriously.
It is more important than ever that you continue these safe health practices. The Western Cape Department of Health has identified cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 in the southern suburbs and at least three UCT students have now tested positive for COVID-19 in these outbreaks. We have been alerted to a particularly large cluster (currently 63 cases in total) in the southern suburbs recently and have noted several smaller cluster outbreaks too.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns us about the “Three Cs” to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in different settings:
Even though we are in Lockdown Level 1, COVID-19 remains a serious threat. We need to be vigilant in preventing the pandemic from spreading by practising physical and social distancing, sanitising of hands and surfaces, and wearing masks and assisting others in wearing their masks. These are proven strategies for reducing the possibility of spreading infection.
The Student Wellness Service (SWS) has received reports of UCT students who have returned to their residences after the curfew that has been set for this current Lockdown Level 1 phase of the pandemic. The curfew was set as a reasonable restriction to the movement of students and staff in order to minimise exposure to the COVID-19 virus. It is our collective responsibility to make our residences a safe place for everyone to study on campus. Violating the curfew without good cause does not demonstrate the kind of care we need to show each other, especially during this time.
When we invited students to return to residences, we explained that they would need to follow all the necessary health and safety protocols at UCT. Residences are places where people have a strong possibility of passing on the virus. So it is especially important for every student and staff member to follow the rules that have been set up to reduce the chance of spreading infection.
To help manage the possibility of significant outbreaks and ‘hotspots’ of infection, we need to know if any student is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, fever, extreme fatigue and difficulty breathing. My appeal to all students – if you are a student and you have any of the symptoms mentioned in the COVID-19 guidelines, please contact SWS immediately for healthcare support.
We are, of course, also concerned about the possibility that an outbreak on campus will affect students, staff, families, and visitors. We must work together to keep the academic project on track and reduce as far as is reasonably practical the risk of spreading the infection within and beyond the UCT community.
UCT is also part of the broader Cape Town community. What you and I do as individuals can have far-reaching consequences. For this reason, we communicated to you how important it is that every individual takes individual responsibility to follow the health and safety protocols to reduce the chance of spreading the infection on campus.
We have followed news reports from overseas about university campuses that reopened and then had to close down again because of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. Many staff at UCT are doing everything possible to avoid such a catastrophe from occurring at UCT. But we cannot do this alone. We need your help to follow the protocols and to help others to remember to do so.
So I am writing to remind you that, although the country has moved to Lockdown Level 1, staff and students are still advised and encouraged to follow three basic actions – wear a face mask, ensure safe physical distancing, and sanitising/washing hands and surfaces. Remember to avoid crowded places, avoid close-contact settings and avoid confined and enclosed spaces. We all share an individual and collective community responsibility to be compliant in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic is ours to manage and ours to overcome – let’s stand together and not drop our guard! Keep us safe and sound, and keep our campuses and families going.
Dr Reno Morar
Chief Operating Officer
Chair of the COVID-19 Co-ordinating Committee
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