All colleges will operate a “household” approach to accommodation next year to minimise the spread of COVID-19, Oxford University has announced.

Colleges are planning to group students into “households” in accommodation where they “share high-contact facilities such as bathrooms or kitchens.” Colleges and faculties have been preparing for the change.

Merton College is conducting a “worst case” housing ballot for undergraduates, on the assumption that “households” may be required.  

Some rooms will be removed from the ballot if they are in houses which accommodate too many students for one household. This means that no living space will house more than 6-8 people. The spare rooms will be converted into kitchenettes, equipped with fridges, microwaves, and toasters.

The College will add five new houses to the ballot to make up for the loss of rooms elsewhere.

An earlier email from the Biochemistry department said students will be allocated a household of six to eight people on their corridor or living space.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, their entire household must self-isolate for two weeks. Within the household, social distancing will not be required.

Balliol Master Helen Ghosh told students in an email that “all colleges will operate a system of ‘households’ for up to 8 students and occasionally more.”

In an email seen by Cherwell, Ghosh said that colleges were taking the measure to “minimise the number of students who have to self-isolate if any one of them gets COVID-10.”

Ghosh said: “If one person in the ‘household’ has a positive test, then everyone in it will have to self-isolate for whatever is the prescribed period. But this doesn’t mean that students will have to move around in a household ‘bubble’.

“Outside their staircase, flat or household zone, students will simply have to operate within normal social distancing and other rules, whether for teaching/studying, eating, or socialising. We may need to adapt some spaces to act as teaching rooms, so that we can ensure proper distancing and enable strict cleaning regimes.”

Further details of the University’s plans for Michaelmas include a University testing service, a comprehensive health regime, and supporting students who have to self-isolate, including international students arriving in the UK. There will also be online teaching for those unable to take part in face-to-face teaching.

Image by Isabella Lill