COVID-19 guidelines for colleges published

Face masks recommended if distancing not possible
  • Deborah Condon

Physical distancing of two metres should be maintained "under all circumstances possible" in third level institutions, however where this cannot be achieved, face coverings should be worn, the Department of Further and Higher Education has said.

It has just published public health implementation guidelines for higher education institutions, which have been closed since last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines acknowledge that third level campuses are generally much larger in size than schools, and students are generally not confined to a single building. Furthermore, many buildings have mechanically ventilated air with greater air exchange compared with most primary and secondary schools.

However reducing the risk of the virus remains vital and the guidelines emphasise the importance of hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and environmental cleaning.

Physical distancing of two metres should be maintained and where it cannot, "appropriate precautions, such as face coverings, visors or barriers, should be employed".

"There will be circumstances under which teaching cannot be delivered while maintaining two metres distance between students, and under such circumstances the distance between student seats or workstations may be reduced to, but not less than, one metre, with appropriate precautions to minimise the risk of viral transmission, and specific provision made for vulnerable students," the guidelines state.

Other than face coverings where adequate distancing cannot be maintained, there is no requirement for other personal protective equipment (PPE). Gloves should not be used unless necessary for other reasons, such as laboratory work. In fact, the guidelines state that they should be "actively discouraged as they generate refuse and tend to distract from hand hygiene".

The guidelines emphasise that the risk to students is greater if they are living on-campus as accommodation tends to be "relatively dense-congregated settings" with shared cooking and dining/recreation areas.

"Students should be encouraged to be vigilant to note signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in peers and be willing to encourage and support other students to self-isolate and seek medical advice if they observe any features that suggest COVID-19.

"Standard measures to reduce risk of infection (reducing time in shared space indoors, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleaning, use of masks) can be promoted and facilitated. However, it is likely that adherence will be far from complete. If COVID-19 is introduced into student residences, there is a high risk of spread," the guidelines warn.

Specific measures are suggested for those living in on-campus accommodation, including:
-Residents in student accommodation should be given clear direction as to who to contact and an immediate pathway of access to an area where they can effectively self-isolate if required
-Students who share a common food preparation area should be advised to limit time spent with others in the shared space and to wear face coverings other than when eating.

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, thanked everyone involved with the development of the guidelines.

"We have provided significant additional funding, a framework for returning to onsite learning and now public health advice to assist institutions. The safety of students and staff is the overriding priority," he commented.

The guidelines can be viewed here.



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