South Africa: Residence Life Under Lockdown - What to Expect

Students returning to residence or entering a University of Cape Town (UCT) residence for the first time can expect several changes and precautions aimed at keeping them and the residence staff safe from COVID-19. Shanaaz Sonday from UCT's residence operations team explained what these are and answered some pertinent questions about residence life during the pandemic.

Each residence entrance, as well as frequently used communal spaces, will feature COVID-19-awareness posters and foot-pedal sanitiser dispensers. All front desks and staff offices have screens; all laundries and bathrooms have disinfectant spray bottles that must be used before and after; social distancing is mandatory; and staff and students are issued with personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of masks and sanitisers.

"We have also requested face shields for the staff who will be engaging with students on the move and not from an office," said Sonday.

What you can expect when taking up residence

On arrival at a UCT residence, there will be a registration process, conducted by the residence operations team. This includes:

confirmation of a clear COVID-19 screening

confirmation that you are at the correct residence

room allocation by a subwarden

completion of your personal details card with a photo for identification

signing a register

being allocated keys, an e-light for load-shedding, PPE and other documentation

being booked onto the Mercury system, which is used, among other things, to capture students' housing applications, offers, book arrival times and select their meals.

"We will be setting up [registration] in well-ventilated spaces where social distancing can be implemented, which could be a dining hall, common room or even having our queues lining up outside with only a few students allowed into the registration space at a time," said Sonday.

She explained that students who are entering residence for the first time will receive support from a staff member to help them settle into their rooms. During this time, the staff member can answer any residence-related questions and show the student where they can find facilities, such as the dining hall, bathrooms and laundry. Senior student leaders on the residences' house committees, mentors and student staff (subwardens, student front desk assistants and student dining hall monitors) will assist with orientating students and will act as COVID-19 peer monitors.

Over the course of the week, the residence house committee will conduct an orientation programme, which is blended between online and short in-person get-togethers. This includes a fire and safety talk to ensure the emergency evacuation and health and safety procedures are understood and adhered to. For the in-person part of the programme, staff and students must comply with COVID-19 regulations; the process will be staggered throughout the day.

Additionally, there is an exciting online sustainability course prepared by the director of environmental sustainability with support from the vice-chancellor, the student-led Green Campus Initiative, the UCT Residence Environmental and Wellness Council and residence staff.

Changes returning students can expect

Here are the following changes returning students can expect:

Double rooms will not be used as shared spaces; one student will be allocated per room.

Laundries will be available for use based on a booking system. This is already in place in most residences, but some machines will be blocked off to ensure social distancing.

Residence social events are not allowed or will be limited, pending approval, to minimise groups and encourage social distancing.

Online communication and engagement will be encouraged: WhatsApp groups should be used for quick messages (no conversations or ranting), Vula for general messages and emails for personal contact with wardens and operations staff. The relevant email addresses will be provided in the residence arrival communication.

Students arriving at residence will go directly into quarantine, with meals collected daily for a week.

Students are required to do their daily screening check online via Mercury. Student Wellness Service (SWS) nurses will follow up on reports as well as with any students who fail to complete their daily checks.

Will visitors be allowed at residences?

"During quarantine students are not permitted to visit [one another] in the residence or other residences. This is to ensure that each residence becomes a safe bubble; a citadel," said Sonday.

UCT's COVID-19 Coordinating Committee will deliberate whether these provisions can be relaxed and will communicate their decision accordingly.

How will the use of shared spaces work?

The use of shared spaces is discouraged, particularly during quarantine and because many of the shared spaces are not large enough and do not have windows that open for good ventilation and/or have air conditioners. Where the space is big enough for sufficient social distancing to take place, the room can be booked and the keys signed out at reception.

Who can students speak to if they have any residence-related concerns?

Sonday explained that if students have an operations-related concern, such as a maintenance matter, they should contact day staff by first emailing the staff member to ensure minimal contact. However, the reception area will be operational daily from 08:00 to 00:00 and the residence team will respond as necessary.

For catering-related feedback, students can contact catering@uct.ac.za.

"If a student has a more sensitive concern of a personal nature, they should consult the student support structures like subwardens, peer helpers, mentors, or contact SWS if they feel they need more professional support," said Sonday.

What happens if a student tests positive in residence?

Students are required to do their daily screening when arriving on campus. If a student has any symptoms, they must contact the SWS COVID-19 Help Desk (021 650 1271 / 021 650 5620 during the day or email sws@uct.ac.za). SWS will advise whether the student will be transported to All Africa House or whether they must self-isolate in their room.

Students need to inform the residence facilities officer of their health situation and, if self-isolating, the residence team will arrange to have their meals delivered to their rooms. If a student tests positive, they need to inform the residence facilities officer, who will in turn contact the residence operations team to arrange for special COVID-19 cleaning to take place in the applicable areas.

Finally, how are res staff feeling ahead of students returning?

"The residence staff have indicated ... excitement to see the residences occupied with students, as many of them have excellent relationships built over the years," said Sonday.

But she added that they also feel anxious about the risk of contracting COVID-19, as is the case in any situation with essential service staff servicing multiple stakeholders.

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