Students to wear face coverings in lectures where two metre distance not possible

The recommendation is included in guidance on resuming on-campus activity

Third level students will have to wear face coverings during lectures if they are sitting between one and two metres apart, new guidance has recommended.

Recommendations which seek to ensure the safe resumption of on-campus activity in the Autumn, the Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in HEIs (Higher Education Institutes), were published byMinister for Higher Education Simon Harris on Wednesday .

The guidance, which was drawn up by senior public health experts within the sector and endorsed by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, suggests a number of methods to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on education campuses.

It recommends that a physical distance of two metres during lectures should be maintained where possible. However, it acknowledges there are situations where tuition can only be “realistically” delivered with less than two metres - but no less than one metre - distancing between students. In those instances, face coverings should be worn, the guidance states.

In the event that tuition requires the staff member to be less than two metres from students, the staff member should wear face shields, visors or other protective equipment which will be provided by the college or university.

The maximum number of people allowed in a class will be 50, under the current public health advice relating to indoor gatherings. However, the guidance states this may change in accordance with the evolving Covid-19 situation nationally.

The guidance has also recommended that colleges develop one-way systems to enter and exit indoor spaces and that additional time should be allocated for this to prevent congestion.

HEIs are also advised to control access to student accommodation. Students should not visit buildings other than the one where they live and should not invite guests to the residences. Students who are not residents in college accommodation should not access the buildings, the guidance states.

The document also suggests that alternative residential space for students who develop Covid-19 symptoms may be required to prevent the spread of the virus in communal accommodation complexes.

The public health guidelines does not put any maximum time limit on the length of a teaching session, however it does highlight that if people spend two or more hours in a shared space together, they may be regarded as Covid-19 contacts in the event that someone present subsequently tests positive.

After each group leaves a teaching space, high-contact surfaces, such as desk tops and computer keyboard should be cleaned with water and detergent. Disinfectant should not generally be used, the guidance adds.

The monitoring of temperatures to access campuses is not required and gloves should not be worn unless required for other reasons, such as in a research laboratory.

Colleges and universities have welcomed the publication of the guidelines and are now working to finalise plans for the next academic year, in collaboration with staff and student representatives.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times