The new normal: Durham’s Covid measures

By Sophie Garnett, and

Covid-19 has forced universities around the country to work differently as they open their doors to students and staff this month.

Durham University has kept students updated with latest information regarding Covid-19 throughout the summer as the rules have changed.

The government recently announced local lockdown restrictions across the North East. These include a 10pm curfew on entertainment and leisure and a ban on mixing households.

A number of Covid-19 cases have been confirmed within the Durham student community. All individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 are now in quarantine at Durham.

Some of the biggest announcements over the summer include moving all lectures online and the closure of colleges to livers-out until at least the first week of Michaelmas Term, as freshers
quarantined upon arrival for three days.

Palatinate has put together a guide for how Michaelmas Term will work at Durham University.

General health and safety measures

All University buildings have been reopened using a ‘5-tests’ model to assess whether it is safe to re-open the buildings.

Hand sanitiser will be made available in all buildings, and face coverings and infra-red thermometers will be available at reception points. Regular temperature checks will also take place.

The University will provide all students and staff with two reusable face masks, and the wearing of face coverings will be compulsory in all University buildings. This will include communal areas in colleges and University chapel and prayer rooms.

University members are encouraged to not engage in conversation in circulation spaces, as this will limit people’s ability to socially distance.

The University is also working with BUPA, a private healthcare company, to offer free flu vaccinations to all staff and students, and is piloting a Security Community Response team that will be available seven nights a week.

‘Covid-19 stewards’ will also be placed around the City to explain social distancing measures.

In an email to students, the University has warned that breaches of the Covid-19 guidelines could result in expulsion, which is the most extreme penalty under the Non-Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Procedure.

Academic activities

The University has opted for a blended learning approach, meaning some teaching will be online, and some face-to-face.

For most subjects, lectures will be held online and seminars will be in person, with students being required to socially distance during in-person teaching.

However, this will not be the case for the first week of term, when all teaching for level 2-4 modules other than practical classes will be held online.

Face-to-face teaching will only take place for foundation students, those studying Level 1 undergraduate modules, and most postgraduate taught students during the first teaching week.

This arrangement will be reviewed at the end of teaching week one.

The University has indicated that exams for the 2020-21 academic year will take place online, but this will be subject to changing regulations.

University libraries, including the Bill Bryson Library, are open. However, students and staff are required to book to use the Bill Bryson’s ‘Stay and Study’ and ‘Browse and Borrow’ services.

Students will be able to book slots of four hours long to browse,check out books and study in the library, although only two bookings can be made per week, and booking must be made separately for different services. The bookdrop service for returning items to the library is currently open to all students and staff.

Bookings will be released for both services every Thursday, and library users will be required to wear a face covering when using the library.

On campus, University members will only be permitted to meet with people from their household, and can only do so in a group of up to six people.


College life and social activities

Undoubtedly, social life is going to look different for students this year, and the University has published guidance for students in line with current government regulations in order to keep students and the local community as safe as possible.

Colleges have been given approval by Durham County Council to form households of up to 18 people. If a member of a household is experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, the whole household will be required to isolate for a two-week period.

Colleges, while acting as an epicentre for many activities and events in previous years, are now restricted to livers-in only. Students may not enter another college under any circumstance and access to students’ own colleges is also restricted.

Undoubtedly, social life is going to look different this year. The University announced that livers-out will not have access to their college during freshers’ week or during week one of term unless given specific permission; this rule is scheduled to be reviewed at the end of week one. The University will communicate with students should this rule change.

Though this means college bar visits will not be possible, pubs and bars in town are ready to welcome students back with many having online booking systems in place.However, these venues are required to close at 10pm as per national guidelines.

Colleges will be permitted to hold formals and open college bars within government guidelines, meaning college bars will operate a table service only and will close at 10pm.

As the North East is subject to local lockdown rules, students must abide by the law against socialising between householdsthis applies to all settings, indoors and outdoors, including cafés, pubs and restaurants. This guidance is in addition to the national ‘rule of six’ which has been imposed. Students living in college will be advised by their college as to who comprises their household.

Although college and University-wide societies and sports cannot run in person currently, many have come up with innovative solutions such as online panels and webinars, while others are running Zoom craft sessions.

College dining and University cafés
For those living in catered college accommodation, meals will also be affected by University and college guidelines. Assigned households will dine together during organised time slots, staggered to avoid mixing with others at the same time. Screens will be in place across dining areas to separate households, along with other measures to slow the spread of the virus.

With regard to college bars, the situation will vary by college; at University College, an app has been developed for booking tables in its college bar, which will operate with table service only for the foreseeable future. The bar in the castle itself could not be set up to follow ventilation guidelines, and a new tent has been erected on the green in its place.

For those not catered, there is usually a chance for a meal or a snack at one of the University’s 10 cafés and restaurants, based in teaching spaces, as well as in the Botanic Garden, Maiden Castle and on Palace Green.

Undoubtedly, social life is going to look different this year

These will work through a click and collect service on an app, with some seating available in the branded retail catering outlets managed by the University. Cafés will be offering the full
range of packaged products, and both hot and cold beverages.

Durham’s Palatine Centre Café, located on the main Science Site, will be open from Monday to Friday between 8am and 3pm. The café will offer a range of sandwiches, snacks, hot and cold drinks to customers, with all payments now taken on a cashless basis.

What to do if you display symptoms
Should you develop Covid-19 symptoms, or recieve a positive test result, the University has provided guidance on actions students need to take.

The University is providing every household with temperature checkers which students are advised to use to help identify anyone displaying unusually high temperatures.

The University must also be informed of these developments students can do this through a tab on banner self-service, accessible through DUO. Students must then book a test at the test centre in the Howlands car park, near Josephine Butler College. You must self-isolate until you are able to receive a test – further information on self-isolation can be found on the Durham website and has been emailed to students.

In addition to self-isolating, students living in college must inform their college duty porter by phone if it is out of hours. The college will then ask who you have been in contact with and inform them that they are required to self-isolate.

Students living out of college are required to inform their housemates and all members of the household must then self-isolate until they are able to get tested.

Isolation rooms have also been made available in each University building for University members to use if they are experiencing any of the three main Covid-19 symptoms.

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