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Health & Relationships

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.

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With so much info about COVID-19 (a type of coronavirus) to take in at the moment, it can be hard to know what steps to be following to try to prevent catching and passing on the illness.

Here, we'll explain 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.

The information in this guide is accurate as of 2nd November. Keep an eye on this page for the latest advice as we will keep it updated.

What is coronavirus?

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Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illness in animals or humans – COVID-19 is a recently-discovered coronavirus, 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 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').

If you're finding the news about coronavirus a bit overwhelming, be sure to take care and look after your mental health. 💜

Common symptoms of coronavirus

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According to the WHO, these are the most common symptoms of the COVID-19 illness:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Dry cough.

The WHO says the following symptoms are less common, but people with COVID-19 may also experience:

  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Red eyes
  • Rash on skin.

A minority of people with coronavirus become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. If you do experience serious symptoms, visit NHS 111 online, call NHS 111 or, if it's an emergency, call 999.

However, COVID-19 symptoms usually begin gradually and stay mild. And, remember that some people with the virus are asymptomatic and don't experience any symptoms at all.

Whether you have symptoms or not, it's important to still be careful, follow social distancing measures and regularly wash your hands.

If you haven't already, check out our guide to getting cheap healthcare.

Test and Trace systems in the UK

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The Test and Trace systems in each part of the UK aim to quickly test potential cases of COVID-19, identify who has recently been in close contact with people who test positive for coronavirus, and encourage any potential cases to self-isolate.

'Close contact' refers to:

  • Being face-to-face with someone who is less than one metre away
  • Being less than two metres away from someone for over 15 minutes
  • Travelling in a small vehicle with someone (e.g. a car), or near somebody on a plane.

The advice below is specifically about the NHS Test and Trace service in England, but it's similar to the processes in the rest of the UK. To find out more about how the system works where you live, have a look at the guidance on the government sites for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

If you're in England or Wales, you can use the NHS contact tracing app to find out quickly if you've been near other users who have tested positive for coronavirus.

What to do if you have coronavirus symptoms

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, here are the steps you should take to follow the Test and Trace system:

  1. When you start experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. a new and continuous cough, a high temperature and/or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), immediately start self-isolating, along with your household.
  2. As well as self-isolating, order a test to find out if you have the virus.
  3. If you test positive for coronavirus, you'll be alerted by the NHS Test and Trace service by a text, email or phone call, and you'll need to let them know who you've been in recent close contact with.
  4. The Test and Trace service will then contact people that you've been in close contact with who might need to self-isolate.

Note: If you're tested for coronavirus and the results come back negative, you and your household can stop self-isolating (as long as you haven't been told separately by the NHS to self-isolate due to being in close contact with someone with the virus).

However, if you're unwell with the flu or a different virus, it's still advisable to stay away from others until you're feeling better.

What to do if you've been in contact with someone who has coronavirus

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If somebody that you've been in recent contact with tests positive for COVID-19, here are the Test and Trace steps to follow:

  1. You will be alerted by the NHS Test and Trace service by a text, email or phone call to let you know that someone you've been in close contact with has tested positive for coronavirus.
  2. You should then log on to the NHS Test and Trace website.
  3. You'll need to start self-isolating for 14 days. Your household will only need to self-isolate with you if you have COVID-19 symptoms, but they should still be careful to follow social distancing measures, regularly wash their hands and avoid contact with you.
  4. If you then develop symptoms, you will need to order a test and follow the self-isolation measures along with your household. And, if you test positive, you'll be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and will need to identify people you've recently been in close contact with.

When should you self-isolate?

As soon as you experience a new and continuous cough, high temperature and/or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, you should start self-isolating. You'll need to order a test, and if it's positive, you'll need to self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms began.

If you don't have symptoms but still test positive, you'll need to self-isolate for 10 days from when you had the test. Or, if you only start to experience symptoms after your test, you should start self-isolating for 10 more days from the start of your symptoms.

If someone in your household or social bubble develops symptoms, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the start of their symptoms (more on this below).

As an overview, here are the key reasons you might need to self-isolate:

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19
  • You're waiting for a coronavirus test result
  • You've tested positive for the virus
  • You live with someone who has symptoms, is waiting for a test result or has tested positive
  • You're in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms, is waiting for a test result or has tested positive
  • You're told to do so by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app.

As NHS 111 and the NHS as a whole have been under a lot of strain during the pandemic, we're encouraged to only use these services when absolutely necessary. Instead, if you can, please look at info on the NHS website and use NHS 111 online instead.

Why is it important to self-isolate?

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A major 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 as it spreads 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.

So, if you experience the symptoms of COVID-19, you can help to prevent the spread of the disease as much as possible by self-isolating.

How long should you self-isolate for?

If, after 10 days from the start of your symptoms or coronavirus test, 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 social distancing measures.

The NHS advises that you don't need to continue self-isolating after 10 days if you just have a cough or changes to your sense of taste or smell as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection's gone.

However, if you're self-isolating because someone in your house or support bubble has had symptoms of COVID-19, you will need to stay at home for 14 days from when their 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 or support bubble 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 or somebody in your support bubble has symptoms, and you develop symptoms during this time, you will then need to self-isolate for a further 10 days from the start of your symptoms (even if that means you're self-isolating for over 14 days altogether).

However, if your symptoms get worse or you still have a temperature after 10 days, visit NHS 111 online or call NHS 111. If it's an emergency, call 999.

Our guide to making money quickly has plenty of ideas to help you earn some cash online while self-isolating.

How to self-isolate in a shared house

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When self-isolating in shared accommodation, it's advisable to DO the following things:

  • Stay in your room on your own as much as you can and keep your door closed.
  • Keep your windows open.
  • 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).
  • Avoid using shared spaces at the same time as others – you could consider wearing a face covering in shared spaces.
  • If possible, use a separate bathroom. Or, if you only have a shared bathroom, clean it after each use.
  • Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water.
  • Drink lots of water and take paracetamol to help with your symptoms.

And, you should AVOID the following during self-isolation:

  • Having visitors.
  • Sharing towels with others.
  • Leaving the house, including for exercise, work and classes.

Self-isolating in student accommodation

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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.

The government suggests that you avoid using shared spaces as much as possible, including kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Try to keep these areas well ventilated, and consider wearing a face covering.

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. 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.

For more advice, including how to handle laundry and dispose of waste while self-isolating, see the government's guidance for people with possible or confirmed coronavirus infection.

17 things to do during self-isolation

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These are the best things to do while self-isolating at home to make money, keep active and stay as positive as you can:

  1. Do free workouts at home
  2. Try a quick way to make money online
  3. Take a free online course to gain a qualification
  4. Host a digital dinner party via Zoom
  5. Get paid to watch videos
  6. Learn a new language
  7. Chat with someone new on a dating app
  8. Find your next favourite book
  9. Start a new hobby
  10. Complete paid online surveys
  11. Become a product tester
  12. Start writing a blog (you could even blog about your experience of self-isolating!)
  13. Try a new recipe
  14. Pamper yourself with homemade beauty treatments
  15. Catch up on your favourite boxsets
  16. Shop for bargains online
  17. Most importantly, take care and look after your mental health.
For lots more self-care ideas to help you while you self-isolate, have a read of our full guide.

Extra ways to help prevent the spread of coronavirus

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COVID-19 is often 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.

As well as social distancing, a key way 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.

And, remember to wear a face covering when necessary.

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