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A Covid-19 resurgence is upon us, as evidenced by the rising number of cases nationally. In particular, the Nelson Mandela Bay metro and George, where our campuses are situated, have been flagged as hotspots as the numbers continue to rise.

Nationally, the numbers have been increasing at a daily average of about 4,000, with the Eastern Cape reported to account for about half of these.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, we are seeing an average of 500 new daily infections, while infections in George have more than doubled in the last two weeks.

Nelson Mandela University is extremely concerned by this, due to the risk and impact on the Bay and George communities at large, as well as on students on our campuses.

As institutions of higher learning, and as microcosms of society, we have not been immune to the widespread infection in the areas in which we are situated.

We saw how Eastern Cape universities began registering cluster outbreaks a few weeks into the more relaxed alert level one in September.

Since then, positive cases among students have been on the rise, mirroring the trajectory in the region.

For NMU, this resurgence appears to have had a greater impact than the first, with the highest number of cases being recorded in November.

The university began seeing a worryingly sharp incline in infections in November.

Numbers rose from an average of two new Covid-19 cases reported in a day to, at the peak, 12 cases reported in a day.

Since the advent of the pandemic on our shores, the university has put in a lot of hard work, through a widely inclusive and transdisciplinary task team, that has been driving the institutional response to the pandemic.

The focus has been on the prevention, surveillance and management of the virus.

Ongoing measures include health screening, the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene and sanitisation mechanisms across campuses, efforts to ensure the requisite physical distancing in work and study spaces is maintained, as well as boosting of online systems.

We drove awareness and educational campaigns aimed at ensuring adherence to the set protocols in a continued bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

We recognise that a large part of the mitigation strategy, as encompassed in our campaign tagline “It Is In Your Hands”, lies in our individual agency and the requisite social and behavioural practices, in line with efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

We are compelled to make lifestyle changes as we navigate this reality. It is not an option, but a necessity.

While there is a body of information about the Covid-19 prevention measures institutionally and in the broader public, there remains a disjuncture between the information available and the necessary social behaviours in adherence thereto.

Identifying the challenges that came with the current lockdown level that allows for increased mobility, particularly within the naturally concentrated space that is residences, we immediately sought to bolster our Covid-19 mitigation efforts in a bid to cushion the impact on students on campus.

We opted for a sharper focus on mitigation strategies at our off-campus accredited residences, working with the respective property owners, as they emerged as the source for the bulk of reported student cases.

We also partnered with the department of health for doorto-door screening and mass testing in identified high risk residences.

Our internal statistics showed that about 45% of our cases were of students staying at accredited off-campus accommodation and 25% at oncampus residences.

The remainder are students residing in private off-campus accommodation (12%) and in their respective homes (18%).

The cumulative number of student cases to date is 201, while staff cases stand at 181.

We responded to cluster outbreaks by developing and implementing a comprehensive cluster management system, which saw about 26 affected spaces quarantined for 10 days.

This was as a means to contain the spread of the virus and offer the requisite health and wellness support to students.

We witnessed the tangible results of this system — aimed at quickly identifying any potential for outbreaks and proactively working to deal with it as far as possible — in the decline in the rate of infections among students on campus.

We are now registering an average of two positive cases a day, with some days recently seeing no new cases.

Encouraging as this may be, and evidence of the grit and determination of both staff and students in this ongoing fight, there is still a long way to go before we can declare victory.

Our efforts in this regard continue as we wind down the year, and students begin to make their way home.

We therefore cannot grow weary in our efforts to drive the message that, as anecdotal evidence suggests, despite an apparent “Covid-19 fatigue”, the virus itself does not tire.

It moves, and thrives, when people move.

The hope is for this message to reverberate throughout, especially as we navigate the so-called “silly season”.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 11 December 2020 written by Luthando Jack, the Dean of Students.

Contact information
Mr Luthando Jack
Dean of Students