Working for a safe start of the semester

Tekst: Per Straume

- Oppdatert

Setting up a test station on campus, organising Buddy Week activities in cohorts, ensuring that disinfectant and other infection preventive equipment is readily available, and setting up classrooms for social distancing are among the measures taken by Volda University College to ensure a safe start to the academic year. 

– It should be safe to come as a student to Volda and people in the community should feel safe when students return, says Karen Lomeland Jacobsen about the start of the academic year where about 900 new students will arrive in the coming days.

Lomeland Jacobsen is the Director of VUC and head of the Crisis Management board at the university college. The board has for a long time planned for a safe start of the academic year and followed closely the infection numbers and measures related to the Coronavirus both nationally and locally.

Test station at the college

Jacobsen and the management at VUC have been in close contact with the local health authorities and Volda municipality. In collaboration with the municipality, a Covid-19 test station will be set up on campus for the next two weeks.

– We encourage students to use the test station on campus. This is intended as a low-threshold offer and allows for drop-in appointments and testing even if you do not have any symptoms. We hope that many of you will make use of the test station. It opens for testing both before, during and after the Buddy Week, says Jacobsen.

The on-campus test station will be open the following days:

16.08. at 13:00 – 15:00
17.08. at 13:00 – 15:00
19.08. at 13:00 – 15:00
24.08. at 13:00 – 15:00

The test station will be set up in Pavljong C on campus. It is not necessary to book an appointment in advance, but if you do wish to make an appointment you can call the Corona test line: +47 700 589 60 (open 09 - 12).

Cohort testing

In addition to its own test station, the college will also carry out cohort testing. This means that cohorts of 20-30 students who study the same programme, will be taking rapid tests as a group. If the group test shows traces of Covid-19, the entire cohort will be tested again one by one.

This is an extra measure to avoid an outbreak on campus, says director Jacobsen.

– We carry out the cohort testing on selected student groups who have a lot of close contact as a part of their studies, says Jacobsen.

The cohort testing is carried out once a week in the first weeks after the start of studies.

Approval stamp for the Buddy Week

The Buddy Week has worked hard for several months to create the best possible welcome for new students. The main aim is for students to be seen and welcomed properly, and also to allow for students to get to know each other. Infection control has been at the forefront of the Buddy Week board all the way since they started planning early this spring.

One of the most important measures is to divide the students into groups of maximum 20 per group, says Stian Woo Andersson, the leader of Buddy Week in Volda 2021.

– Each buddy group is a cohort and we encourage students to stick to their cohorts, says Andersson.

During its larger events, the Buddy Week will ensure to register all participants. The Buddy Week build on the experiences from last year and plan on having many of their events outdoors. - We do this to find more space, so that it is easier to keep the right distance. We always want to minimize the risk of infection, says the leader of the Buddy Week.

The Buddy Week organisers have also had close contact with the college and Volda municipality, and have received a thumbs up from the local health authorities.

– The Municipal Head Doctor gave praise to the Buddy Week program and our plans. As long as we follow our plan and the students respect the infection control measures, we believe the risk of infection is low, says Andersson.

The Studenthouse Rokken will let in a maximum of 80 people to its events, which is below the number they are allowed according to current infection control rules.

Social and safe

VUC Director Jacobsen wish that the new students get a good start with the possibility of being social, getting to know people and having fun – within a safe framework.

– We encourage students to follow the infection control measures, stick to the cohorts during the Buddy Week and respect rules both on- and off-campus. Students should have fun and it is important for both mental health and academic achievements to socialize as a student.

– We recently experienced a large Covid-19 outbreak in Volda and Ørsta, but is now only about a month left until every adult has the chance to be fully vaccinated, so I hope everyone will do their part to maintain low levels of infections in the coming time, says Jacobsen.

VUC will provide disinfectants to the Buddy Week so that all buddy groups are equipped with this.

All new students have also received an e-mail with the college's own infection control guide which they can read through before coming to Volda. You can find it here.

Experience from last year

When the Corona situation being as it is, the management at Volda University College is happy that we have experience from last year to build on when it comes to planning a safe start of the academic year. This year we know more about what to expect, and it is easier to plan and be confident in the choices we make.

– The semester start last year went very well, and we had few to none cases that whole autumn. The Buddy Week planned their activities well and the VUC management also made good decision along the way. Our experience was that students respected and adhered to the infection control measures and this was the main factor to explain the success of keeping Covid-19 away from our campus. We hope to repeat this this year - I know, for example, that the Buddy Week puts in a lot of good work into their preparation, says Odd Helge Mjellem Tonheim, vice-rector at Volda University College.

Teaching this autumn will be a combination of a digital lectures and in-person classes. All classrooms are set up so that students can keep a distance of 1 meter. This means that VUC again will have to move some classes to rented premises off-campus and extend the nominal length of the teaching day.

Good information, and readily accessible disinfectant and washing facilities are also important measures, of course together with increased cleaning frequency of buildings, rooms and equipment.

Opening day

On Tuesday 17th of August, the academic year at Volda University College opens with an official opening ceremony. Instead of a joint opening ceremony, each study programme will have its separate opening ceremony where students will meet their classmates, watch a film from VUC, and receive information from the programme responsible of their study. At the end of this session, the buddies will introduce themselves and take the students to other activities that are part of the Buddy Week.

Not worried

As previously mentioned, VUC has been in close contact with local health authorities about the situation related to Covid-19 infection rates, testing and preventative measures.
Municipal chief physician Bent Ingebrigtsen is happy about the collaboration and is not worried about the start of studies.

– At the end of July and the beginning of August, we had a local outbreak where app. 80 people were infected in Volda municipality. Even though it looks like we have now been able to contain this outbreak, we encourage students who come to Volda to have a low threshold for testing. Test yourself if you get symptoms or if you have been in a situation with risk of exposure, says Ingebrigtsen before he concludes:

– We work hard, together with Volda University College and the student organizations, to ensure that the students get a Corona-free and fun start to the academic year. 

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