Students have been facing many issues during this lockdown.
With the closure of campuses, social events halted and gatherings banned, isolation is a reality for many.
Now with fears of restrictions staying in place for Christmas, it is not inconceivable to imagine the young population becoming restless.
Doctor Marie Casey, Specialist in Public Health Medicine for the Department of Public Health HSE Mid-West, is part of one of eight public health departments who “leads on control and execution of infectious diseases in the region”.
The department rolled out contact tracing in March to “to interrupt further spread” of Covid.
“I think in general, students need more support than they have ever needed as a result of the difficulties inherent in this pandemic,” said Dr. Casey.
Now in the middle of our second lockdown and no prospect of normality soon, students may be left feeling cut-off.
“With many of them sharing houses and living independently of their housemates, support structures may not be in place if they were to self-isolate.”
She remembers “what it means to be 19 or 20, having social lives and friends and being able to get out.”
One student, who lives alone, spoke about their isolation.
“The diminishing of daily routines with the lockdown has made it more difficult to remain focused on the work that needs to be done because it can remove any semblance of structure when days are merging and every lecture or tutorial you attend is from your couch.”
In response, Dr. Casey urged that; ”everyone should be made to be aware of what is available in their local universities such as resources available in the student union, the welfare office.”
“I think the important thing to do is contact people, reach out and see if you can actually get the help that you need.”
House parties during the sumemer months lead to Garda patrols during the first few weeks of the semester in the hopes of stopping the return to Level Five.
However, now with the return to Level Five, the importance of not attending or hosting parties is even more pertinent.
Dr Casey expressed concerns over these house parties, as from a contact tracing point of view “students just didn’t know who was at the party with them.”
This behaviour, in conjunction with travelling home during the weekends is being attributed to the large spikes of Covid cases in Limerick.
Although students who face weekends alone may wish to travel home it is important they do not as Dr. Casey has stated; “people can go from an area of a high number of cases and bringing into a place with a low number of cases, so essentially it’s the same issue that every other part of the population has.
“It is about reducing the number of contacts you have and minimising exposures.”
The University of Limerick has released a statement urging safety also; “Social distancing requirements remain in place in on-campus accommodation. No visitors are permitted and
students have been directed to remain and exercise within the 5-kilometre limit and not toreceive visitors or to visit other households.”
However, Dr. Casey has stressed that students are not solely to blame for any spikes stating; “I think they got very negative coverage over the summer. I saw house parties and students but I also saw communion parties so there are parents and grandparents and children and I saw professional porting event celebrations as well and weddings and all kinds of events that led to outbreaks.”
Despite this, Public Health urges caution.
If a person has attended a house party, testing is imperative.
In face of this students may fear a stigma attached to testing.
Dr. Casey explains; “A lot of people don’t want to get tested, it can mean they can’t go to work, it can mean the people they live with are put under restrictions, so some people do have reluctance but it is actually really important.
Asked for advice regarding a safe transition to the new year Dr. Casey said; “It’s doing all the basic stuff right again, it’s the wearing of masks, it’s the shared spaces, it’s the social distancingor hand hygiene, it’s minimising the number of contacts and it is spreading your contacts out.”
Even so, there is a horizon with Dr. Casey concluding; “hopefully we get to a point when all the levels go down a bit again and we are able to have a bit more freedom.
“We just have to hang tough for a while. It’s a very tough time but I think we can get through it.”
Students have been asked to follow public health guidelines such as hand washing and physical distancing, to download the Covid tracker app and to self-isolate if they display any symptoms while awaiting testing.
The Student Health Centre can arrange tests for students who do not have GPs.