Coronavirus: self-isolating at university
Coronavirus seems to be all anyone's talking about right now, but you won't be alone in wondering what you actually need to do to self-isolate. Worry not as this guide explains all.
UPDATE: On 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced stricter restrictions in the UK. More information on this here.
With so much info to take in about COVID-19 (a type of coronavirus) at the moment, it can be hard to know what steps to be following to try to prevent catching and passing on the illness.
Ultimately, try not to let all the news around the virus panic you. Here, we'll explain what measures to follow, how you can reduce your chances of getting COVID-19, when you need to self-isolate and how to approach self-isolation when living in shared accommodation.
What's in this guide?
- What are the new coronavirus measures?
- What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?
- Common symptoms of coronavirus
- When should you self-isolate?
- How long should you self-isolate for?
- How to self-isolate in shared accommodation
- 15 things to do during self-isolation
- Universities are moving their teaching online
- Shielding vulnerable people from coronavirus
- Extra tips to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus
What are the new coronavirus measures?
On 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced tight restrictions on leaving the house in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in the UK.
Under the new measures set out by the government, you should only go outside for the following reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities like food and medicine, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise each day like a walk, run or cycle ride (this can be on your own or with people you live with)
- Medical needs, like going to the pharmacy, or to bring essential supplies to a vulnerable person
- Travel for work, but only when you can't work from home.
If you do need to go out of the house for any of these reasons, you should still keep your time outside to a minimum and keep two metres away from anyone outside of your household.
How long will the stay-at-home measures last?
These restrictions are effective immediately and are due to stay in place for three weeks from 23rd March 2020, at which point the government has said that they will review them.
After three weeks, if the evidence shows that they can relax the measures, they will, but it's yet to be seen whether the measures will be kept in place for longer. You can see full government guidance on the new rules here.
During this time, please take care of yourself, spend time doing the hobbies you enjoy and look after your mental health.
Are public gatherings still allowed?
On the whole, public gatherings of more than two people are not allowed under the current measures.
However, the following things are still allowed:
- You can go out with people from your household (but please note, the government use the example of a parent bringing their children to the shops when they can't leave them at home – you should still aim to avoid going out in groups if you can)
- If a gathering is essential for work or legal reasons, this is okay, but you should aim to keep work-related gatherings to a minimum.
While funerals can also still be attended by immediate family, weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies have been stopped by the government.
What happens if you don't comply with the new rules?
These measures are intended to reduce our daily contact with other people so that the spread of coronavirus can be slowed down. If you don't follow them, the police and other relevant authorities can enforce them, such as through fines and dispersing gatherings.
Non-essential shops and public spaces instructed to close
Following previous instructions from the government for businesses like pubs, cinemas and theatres to close, these places are also closing:
- Non-essential retail stores, including fashion and electronics shops and hair salons
- Libraries, as well as community centres and youth centres
- Leisure facilities (indoor and outdoor)
- Communal areas within parks like playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms (but parks themselves should stay open)
- Places of worship, but funerals attended by immediate families are still allowed
- Hotels, B&Bs, hostels, caravan parks, campsites and boarding houses (except for permanent residents, key workers or emergency accommodation).
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illness in animals or humans – COVID-19 is the most recently-discovered coronavirus to reach humans, but the previous ones have, on the whole, appeared more like colds.
COVID-19, which means Coronavirus Disease 2019, was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday 11th March 2020. This was because the spread of the disease around the world exceeded expectations for a new virus, for which people don't have immunity.
As the illness is new, experts are still uncertain about some aspects of COVID-19. That said, it's currently believed that it usually takes up to 14 days for symptoms to start after you catch the virus (this is known as the 'incubation period').
Common symptoms of coronavirus
According to the WHO, these are the most common symptoms of the COVID-19 illness:
- Dry cough.
People with COVID-19 may also experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Possibly also a runny nose, nausea or diarrhoea, but these symptoms are less common.
The symptoms usually begin gradually and stay mild, but a minority of people with COVID-19 become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing, while others don't develop any symptoms at all.
As we said before, please try not to worry too much about the symptoms of COVID-19. Taking precautions like social distancing, washing your hands more often and more thoroughly (more on this below) and self-isolating when necessary can hopefully help to slow down the spread of the illness.
If you do experience more serious symptoms like difficulty breathing, visit NHS 111 online, call NHS 111 or, if it's an emergency, call 999.
When should you self-isolate?
If you have a new and continuous cough or a high temperature, you should self-isolate for seven days from the start of your symptoms. This means staying at home and not going out for a full week after the start of your symptoms.
If someone in your household develops symptoms, you will also need to self-isolate for 14 days from the start of their symptoms (more on this below).
As NHS 111 and the NHS as a whole are under a lot of strain, we're encouraged to only use these services when absolutely necessary. Instead, if you can, please look at info on the NHS website and NHS 111 online instead.
Why is it important to self-isolate?
The reason why it's important to self-isolate if you have COVID-19 is that there's a risk you could pass it on to others, and it's spreading very quickly.
While you may have no problem fighting off the illness, for others it can be serious – particularly for the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
How long should you self-isolate for?
If, after seven days from the start of your symptoms, you have a normal temperature and you feel better, you should be fine to stop self-isolating, but you will still need to keep following the government's stay-at-home measures.
However, if you're self-isolating because someone in your house has had symptoms of COVID-19, you will need to stay at home for 14 days from when your housemate's symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for you to start having symptoms after catching the virus.
If more than one person in your house has symptoms, your 14 days of self-isolation follow when the first person started having symptoms.
And, if you're self-isolating for 14 days because your housemate has symptoms, and you develop symptoms during this time, you will then need to self-isolate for a further seven days from the start of your symptoms (even if that means you're self-isolating for over 14 days altogether).
The NHS advise that you don't need to continue self-isolating if you just have a cough after seven days as coughs can last for several weeks after the infection's gone.
However, if your symptoms get worse and/or you're still unwell seven days after the symptoms started, visit NHS 111 online or call NHS 111.
How to self-isolate in shared accommodation
When self-isolating, it's advisable to DO the following things:
- Keep at least two metres away from other people in the house, particularly if you live with anyone who's older or who has a long-term health condition
- Ask others to bring you things like food and medicines, but avoid direct contact with them (anything you're brought should be left outside your door)
- Sleep alone
- Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and warm water
- Drink lots of water and take paracetamol to help with your symptoms.
And, you should AVOID the following during self-isolation:
- Having visitors
- Leaving the house, including going for walks.
Self-isolating in student accommodation
Of course, a lot of the above things are easier said than done when living in a student house with several others. But, it's super important to follow the NHS guidelines as much as you can if you fit the description of those being asked to self-isolate.
On top of the above suggestions from the NHS website, the government also suggests that you avoid using shared spaces as much as possible, including kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Try to keep these areas well ventilated.
If you need to cook, you should only use the kitchen when no one else is there. It's a good idea to then use disinfecting cleaning products to clean the surfaces you've touched.
You should eat your meals in your room. And, the best way to clean your dishes is with a dishwasher but, if you don't have one, you can use washing up liquid and warm water, before drying them with a separate tea towel to the rest of the house.
For shared toilets and bathrooms, try to clean them after each use. Again, it's also worth using a separate towel to your other housemates to dry your hands.
15 things to do during self-isolation
These are the best things to do while self-isolating at home to make money, keep active and stay as positive as you can:
- Do free workouts at home
- Try a quick way to make money online
- Take a free online course to gain a qualification
- Host a digital dinner party via Skype
- Learn a new language
- Chat with someone new on a dating app
- Start a new hobby (you can currently take free online piano lessons until September)
- Complete paid online surveys
- Become a product tester
- Start writing a blog (you could even blog about your experience of self-isolating!)
- Try a new recipe
- Pamper yourself with homemade beauty treatments
- Catch up on your favourite boxsets
- Shop for bargains online
- Most importantly, take care and look after your mental health.
Universities are moving their teaching online
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, universities across the country have now announced plans to suspend face-to-face classes and lectures, and provide online teaching instead.
Your university should be in touch with you to explain how they're adjusting their teaching methods from now on, and whether or not they expect you to visit any uni facilities in person.
And, there should be regularly-updated information on your uni's website, so keep an eye out for developments.
Shielding vulnerable people from coronavirus
In addition to the stay-at-home measures that we all need to follow, Public Health England also strongly advise people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to follow shielding measures too.
The shielding measures, as outlined below, are intended to protect people with underlying health conditions who are most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Read on for info about who is encouraged to follow shielding measures, and how to reduce your face-to-face interaction if this applies to you.
Who should follow shielding measures?
According to Public Health England, you are most at risk of getting severe illness from COVID-19 if you:
- Are the recipient of a solid organ transplant
- Have specific cancers – you can find more details on this here
- Have severe respiratory conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
- Are on immunosuppression therapies that can increase your risk of infection
- Have rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that increase your risk of infection
- Are pregnant with heart disease.
If you are in an extremely vulnerable group, you will have likely received a letter by Sunday 29th March 2020 or have heard from your GP. If you haven't, but you think you may need to follow shielding measures because of an underlying health condition, contact your GP or hospital clinician.
And, if you do have an underlying health condition and you develop symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. a new, continuous cough or a fever), contact NHS 111 or use NHS 111 online immediately.
For more advice, contact your GP or specialist to discuss the best steps to take to stay as safe as possible.
What are coronavirus shielding measures?
People who are at high risk of needing hospital admission with COVID-19 are advised to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks from receiving their letter. But please note, the advised period of 12 weeks could change, so keep an eye out for updates.
The recommended face-to-face distancing measures for extremely vulnerable people are to:
- Avoid all contact with anyone who's showing symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. a high temperature and/or a new, continuous cough)
- Stay in the house
- Don't attend gatherings, including ones with friends and families in private spaces like family homes and religious services
- Ask others to bring you food or medication, but these deliveries should be left at the door to avoid interaction
- Stay in touch with friends and family digitally, like on the phone and on social media.
Extra ways to help prevent the spread of coronavirus
COVID-19 is mostly spread by people coughing, but it's not just those nearby who can catch the disease this way.
If someone with the virus coughs or exhales, small droplets from their nose or mouth can land on surfaces or objects. People could then touch the infected areas and catch COVID-19 themselves when they then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Because of this, you need to cover your mouth and nose with tissues each time you cough and sneeze. Then, throw away the tissue and wash your hands.
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection is by regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water.
Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are also good if you aren't able to quickly wash your hands.
Should you wear a face mask?
Finally, this one's a biggie. Should you wear a face mask to prevent catching or spreading COVID-19?
The WHO advises that you only wear a mask if you're ill with COVID-19 symptoms – particularly if you're coughing – or if you're looking after someone who's ill. Otherwise, it could be a waste of a mask.
As there's been a worldwide shortage of face masks, please avoid wearing one unless you really need to.
Instead, focus on washing your hands regularly, covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (or the bend of your elbow if you don't have a tissue) and keeping at least two metres from people outside of your household when you go out.
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