Covid tests will be touch and go at varsities, but it’s a smart ...

News

Covid tests will be touch and go at varsities, but it’s a smart move

A smartphone screening app will be compulsory for all students if they want to get through the gates

Journalist
Mass daily screenings will be the new normal for students returning to universities across the country.
Steep challenge Mass daily screenings will be the new normal for students returning to universities across the country.
Image: Shelley Christians

University students who will begin their trickle back to lecture halls across the country will undergo daily Covid-19 screenings as part of an aggressive health campaign to stop the spread of the pathogen.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande announced plans to reopen universities in phases aligned with the levels of the protracted national lockdown.

In broad stokes, level 3 would allow 33% of the student body return to class, level 2 would allow a recall of 66% of the campus, and at level 1 the full compliment of staff and students would flood back.

But to combat a resurgence of the virus and staff and students come together in growing numbers, everyone who passes through the gates of higher learning institutions will perform self-screening, using a smartphone app called Health Check.

In two minutes, the app, developed in conjunction with the national health department, will classify the user according to risk, according to their answers to questions about signs and symptoms of the virus.

The app then generates a QR code valid for that day, a de facto clearance certificate for the student or staff member that will allow access to campuses.

Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of health and wellness development centre Higher Health, said screening data fed directly into the department’s tracking and tracing nerve centre.

“This screening needs to be done daily for every student and every staff member. If you have any device like a tablet or smartphone, you can do daily screening prior to leaving your home,” he said.

Knowing that smartphone access was not universal, mass-screening stations would also be erected at the entrance to the university.

“Daily screening is very critical, primarily because we need to detect this virus early, and use this data to map and manage Covid-19. If we can isolate people in the early phase of showing moderate to high risk of Covid-19, immediately we can reduce the spread of infections in our campuses and elsewhere,” he added.

The app, Ahluwalia said, would be made available to every university student, staff member or outside contractor who needed to return to campus.

“If you are moderate or high risk it will tell you whether or not you need to self-isolate and also what are the criteria for testing and seeking emergency care.

“That is a certificate you get every day that you can show that you can enter the campus at low risk,” he added.

Knowing that smartphone access was not universal, mass-screening stations would also be erected at the entrance to the university.

The app would then be used for the same screening processes, augmented by temperature checks for all who wished to enter.

“This is what we are moving toward. Where we have institutions, which are based in a town like Rhodes or UCT, we can use other action points like class-based screening, having roving screening teams for student and staff, and we are also putting in place a rigorous process of residence screening,” Ahluwalia added.

“Students will be coming into our accommodation and residence-based screening is another protocol which will be critical.”

At the same media briefing Nzimande called on people to respect the lockdown because it saved lives.

“We know that the lockdown is not nice and it’s not designed to punish people, but rather to save lives,” he said.

“The sector is committed to resume academic activities in line with the national risk-adjusted strategy. This includes putting remote learning systems in place as well as planning the gradual return to various campuses during various phases of the risk-adjusted strategy.”

Previous Article