From conflicting Facebook posts to unclear policies, when it comes to COVID-19, there is a lot of confusion out there. Should we be taking it as a health threat seriously? Will it affect how you study this year? Will it impact your ability to socialise? These are just a few of the questions being raised by the UK’s newest cohort of students.
But it is just a threat to those who are ‘vulnerable’, right?
Wrong. As a mature student who has recently returned to post-graduate study, I can relate strongly to this. In April, at the peak of infection, I came down with my own case of the virus. As a fit 26-year-old with no previous respiratory conditions or immune deficiency, my outlook was pretty good. Yet, I can vouch that it not simply a matter of the young and healthy being exempt to symptoms. What started off as a slight chest tightness quickly turned into my own unwanted battle with a pair of lungs that seemed to have gone on sabbatical.
After fighting to continue working from home as normal, I admitted defeat to the recovery period on Day three and addressed that long-built backlog of programmes on my Netflix watchlist. Five months later, my lungs are still inflamed due to tissue damage, which I manage with a strict lung-clearing Joe Wicks routine and a recent introduction to the characteristic brown and blue inhalers. As unpleasant as it has been, I have never ceased to appreciate how fortunate I am not to have been in the ‘vulnerable’ category or to have made the decisions of those who have close contact with such individuals. What I do know is that the virus does not just lead to symptoms or complications in persons with other health conditions, in the older population or those working in healthcare environments – we all need to be careful.
So how do students manage this risk and how will it change University life?
Beyond national face covering, the rule of six and social distancing policies, each area of the country and university will have their own set of rules; it is always best to check your local guidelines to see what steps and measures you will have to take. By now, many students will be back or starting university and getting into the swing of virtual lectures and campus one-way systems. A mixture of being away from home, reduced university contact, nightclub closures and pub curfews can mean that the new ‘normal’ is an isolating and lonely time for students. Likewise, whether you have symptoms or not, are shielding with family or by yourself, the environment can be frightening. If you need help, it is important that you reach out to mental health services, either via your GP or through school or university support services.
There are little things that all students can do to overcome the challenges of this new way of living. Taking a walk outside just once a day can boost a range of ‘happy hormone’ levels and, although mixing with other households may be challenging, try building on relationships with your current housemates through quiz or cooking nights.
Who to believe?
From accounts that we should all be sealing ourselves into bunkers to those that claim COVID-19 is no worse than flu, there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Throughout the restrictions, half of my social media account has been filled with angry posts about how the government has handled it, the hitting home of tragic death rates and anarchy at the toilet roll aisles. The other half seemed to be friends complaining that the cancellation of their all-inclusive trip to the Mediterranean was the worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone. Neither readings made me feel very positive. The important thing is to gain information from reliable sources – social media can often not be this resource! Before you draw your own conclusions or consider purchasing that hazmat suit, check the facts. The WHO, NHS and your University websites are great places to start and publish information based on more reliable and often less biased data.