Archive for August 8, 2020

Not Returning to Campus

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 8, 2020 by telescoper

Well.

Having spent the day yesterday getting our return to campus sorted, the Government last night announced restrictions on the counties of Offaly, Laois and Kildare. Following that a message came round from the President of Maynooth University, Philip Nolan including this:

Following the announcement this evening, the gradual reopening of campus from Monday, 10th August will be paused. Staff who are working from home should, in the main, continue to do so. Staff who are coming on campus to do their work effectively may continue to do so, and in certain circumstances, staff may, with the approval of their Head of Department, return to the campus to work, where it is necessary to do their work effectively or prepare for the coming academic year.

So we’re on hold for a couple of weeks (at least). That’s frustrating but not the end of the world. I don’t imagine we would have had that many people coming in over the next two weeks anyway.

On the bright side the recent outbreaks are very localised and there is a good testing and tracking system in place, which suggests they can be contained through isolation. On the other hand they are large clusters and it only takes a small amount of leakage to trigger a much wider spread.

Of more immediate concern is this:

Unfortunately, the restriction on travel means that it is no longer appropriate to go ahead with the on-campus resit examinations scheduled for next week. We will work with the colleagues involved and where possible we will replace these with online exams at the same times; where this is not possible, we will reschedule the exams at the earliest feasible time. We will of course continue to support our students in their studies in every way that we can.

Obviously we can’t hold examinations on campus if students can’t travel here from other counties. There is also a restriction of six on the number of people at an indoor event which would rule them out too.

Fortunately we have a Plan B and all these examinations will be replaced by online timed assessments. That means a busy couple of days next week – the exams are due to start next Wednesday (12th August) – but it is manageable.

I know a lot of people are angry about the new (partial) lockdown, especially pubs and restaurants. In my opinion the decision yesterday was inevitable given the steep increase in new cases (98 reported yesterday) :

Update: 174 new cases today (Saturday 8th August). Grim.

This growth is dominated by clusters of infections, mostly in meat processing works, in the three counties under lockdown. That includes 80 announced yesterday in the same plant. None of these is particularly close to Maynooth but the country boundaries are the only simple way of imposing local restrictions.

Serious questions do need to be asked, though, about how we got to this situation.

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat processing plants have been widely reported elsewhere for months, and Ireland does not seem to have learned from these. There are allegations that the plants involved may not have undergone proper inspections and that public health guidance has not been followed. The present circumstances could well be a result of negligence on the side of the businesses concerned and/or the government. These issues require urgent investigation to prevent possible occurrences elsewhere. If negligence can be demonstrated I sense a large number of lawsuits…

Let me just add one final comment. It seemed to me that the original return to work Roadmap, with five phases, was sensible and that it was working. I had serious reservations when it was decided to try speeding it up. If a carefully thought-out plan is working why change it on the fly?

The announcement of the accelerated Roadmap was interpreted by many in the general population as a signal that the Covid-19 epidemic in Ireland was over. Complacency set in and social distancing rules began to be flouted, especially among younger people.

I’m not saying this is the reason for the clusters in meat factories but it is probably behind the parallel increase in community transmission.

Now the Roadmap is paused and we’re behind where the original version would have put us. You can add impatience and complacency to the reasons we’re in this local difficulty.