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    “Return home as soon as possible”: colleges respond to rising COVID cases

    Charlie Hancock reports on rising COVID-19 cases across Oxford University.

    The final week of Trinity term saw an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases reported across Oxford University. At a meeting of the Conference of Colleges, cases were described as having “exploded”.

    Some colleges which had planned to allow students to stay beyond the end of term have urged them to return home. The University’s coronavirus advice page is encouraging students to take a lateral-flow test before leaving Oxford. Events such as finalists’ dinners have also been postponed or cancelled.

    34% of tests taken between 21-25 June were positive, leading to 109 cases being identified. This takes the total number of cases recorded by the University’s Early Alert System since 20 August 2020 to 1,415.

    Image: Early Alert System

    In Oxfordshire, 503 COVID-19 cases were reported over the weekend of 26 June. The infection rate in the county stands at 5,225 cases per 100,000, which is lower than the average in England of 7,350 per 100,000 people.

    The Acting Rector of Lincoln College, David Hills, asked students who had planned to stay after term ended, especially for social reasons, to consider returning home. All dinners, evensong, and garden parties were cancelled. The College was closed to visitors from 10:15am on 26 June.

    15% of students at Hertford College were isolating as of 25 June across the main site and College accommodation in South Oxford. Principal Tom Fletcher announced in an email to students that the finalists’ dinner, schools’ dinners, and a cricket match on 27 June have been postponed.

    Jamie Clarke, the Hertford bursar, advised students to leave College residences “as soon as is practicable”. Undergraduate students had previously been allowed to stay until 30 June.

    At Jesus College, the freshers’ dinner, halfway hall, giving dinner, and schools’ dinner were all cancelled due to rising cases within the College.

    Helena, a history and politics student at Jesus, expressed her frustration at the rising number of cases in her College on Twitter. “Help I’m stuck on a plague ship and someone’s set it on fire”, she tweeted after learning she needed to self-isolate.

    She told Cherwell: “I went into isolation as a close contact after a friend tested positive on Wednesday 23rd June, and tested positive myself the following Sunday, extending my isolation period from ten days to sixteen at least. I’ve been lucky to have no symptoms (as of yet) but while much focus is on the physical impact of isolation, I’ve found the mental impact far worse – the constant lateral flow testing, wearing a mask around the flat, and waiting for symptoms to potentially manifest is emotionally draining, not to mention the effects of being stuck in one small room. It’s especially difficult as someone who suffers from chronic pain and mental health issues – and I’ve struggled to find support resources for people like myself in this position.

    “It’s particularly gutting that this outbreak has come at the end of Trinity – I lost the end of my first year to the COVID crisis, and now my second year has been tainted too. Both my best friend and boyfriend are leaving Oxford at the end of this year and it feels like I’ve been robbed of time with them.

    “It’s especially difficult watching people leave for the vac from my fourth floor window, unable to say goodbye or have any sort of meaningful sendoff. I’d always wanted to stay in Oxford into eleventh week, but I’d never thought it would be quite like this.”

    The Warden of Wadham College told students it was “imperative that all UK undergraduate and taught PGT graduate students who have completed their exams should take a lateral flow test and, if negative, should return home as soon as possible”. The College had previously planned to allow students to stay until the end of 10th week. However, the Warden warned students that staying would put “[themselves], [their] friends, and our staff at risk”.

    The Magdalen COVID-19 Working Group “strongly recommends” that students leave College “no later than 28 June”. Exceptions could be made for students who had travel arrangements which could not be rescheduled, were self-isolating, or who had commitments to the University or College.

    At St Catherine’s College, 23 positive cases were reported as of 28 June, including among students living out. 16 households, comprising 121 students, have been ordered to isolate. An email from the Dean and Home Bursar said: “We will continue to do what we can to help and support you – as usual, the Porters can be contacted at any time of the day, and the Junior Deans are around and happy to talk.”

    The Dean of St Hugh’s College received reports that some students who tested positive had not isolated in their room. Some had even returned home after a member of their household tested positive. According to an email seen by Cherwell, anxiety surrounding people not abiding by COVID restrictions has caused some students at St Hugh’s to “[take] matters into their own hands by shouting and telling fellow students off”. Professor Perera asked students not to assume that people who left their rooms were breaking the rules, and told students to report suspected rule-breakers to him or the Lodge.

    Further advice for students in Oxford and those looking to return home can be found here.

    Image: Amir Pichhadze

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