by Gurleen Aujla, Peak Associate

As BC marks its record-breaking fifth wave of COVID-19, you’re probably busy savouring the last few days of winter break and preparing for another pandemic semester. While we continue to learn more about variants and adjust to new restrictions, let’s remember to take care of ourselves and others during this challenging time. Being COVID-19 safe on campus is a shared responsibility and one that begins with vaccination. It is one of the most important acts we can take to protect ourselves and the people around us. Vaccines are free and available to all students, even for those without a Personal Health Number. 

In addition to getting vaccinated, here are six tips for being COVID-safe on-campus.

 

Stick to the basics

I know, we’ve heard the same few tips for being COVID-19 safe on campus, but that’s because our everyday small actions lead to greater safety for all. Wear a properly fitted non-medical face mask, especially in all indoor public spaces and public transit. It doesn’t do any good if you use your mask as a chinstrap. Your mask should cover your mouth, the bridge of your nose, cheeks, and chin. 

Be sure to wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. Did you know washing your hands “at least five times a day has been shown to significantly decrease” the occurrence of colds, the flu, and other infections?  

Practice physical distancing of two metres or six feet from others when possible. Prepare a personal COVID-safety kit to keep on you at all times, including extra masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, and tissues. Stay home if you’re feeling sick and get tested.

 

Course COVID-19 protocols 

Familiarize yourself with your course COVID-19 protocols, including how the professor will make the course content accessible to those unable to attend in-person classes if they’re feeling ill or have COVID-19. Will lectures be recorded? Will the lecture slides be posted? If your syllabus doesn’t say, ask your professor.

Read more: COVID-19 protocols should be included in the syllabus.

In addition, clarify what steps a student should take to receive an instructor-granted academic concession alongside the documentation required. Concessions can include “extensions, deferred exams, make-up exams, alternate assignments, or the re-weighting of grades.” You should know how to access these supports before you or one of your classmates needs them. 

 

Keep an eye on SFU and SFSS updates

As COVID-19 continues to evolve, it is imperative to stay up-to-date on timely and reliable information. Visit SFU’s Return to Campus website for their latest statements, changes to campus services, and the campus safety plan. The Simon Fraser Student Society also has a section on their website on COVID-19 updates for clubs, events, and services, including their food bank program, Out on Campus, and the Women’s Centre. Additionally, be sure to follow @SFU on Twitter for any updates and to check your SFU email regularly.

 

Respect other people’s personal space 

While there might not be enough room in lecture halls for physical distancing, it’s still important to respect others’ personal space. The pandemic has changed our ways of connecting through having six-foot markers on floors to handshakes and hugs no longer being a commonplace greeting. When in doubt, ask what the other person is comfortable with.

If you’re approaching a friend, give them a wave or simply say “hello.” Otherwise, ask whether it’s okay to bump elbows or hug before you engage. It might feel awkward to you, but it’ll make a world of a difference to people facing these anxiety-inducing situations. On the flip side, try to prepare a response in case someone is breaching your personal space. Try saying “How about an elbow bump instead?” or “I’m going to grab this seat instead, just so we’re all spaced out.” Be polite, but assertive. 

If you’re hopping into an elevator, either wait for the next one or ask whether it’s okay to join the people inside. 

When you’re lined up for something like buying lunch, be sure to give the person in front of you at least six feet of space even if there are no markers on the ground. That is roughly the length of an adult bicycle (and also the length of a dairy cow, which is a much more fun comparison).

 

Develop a plan for possible exposures 

Lastly, we can abide by best practices for safety but must plan for the worst. In case you or someone close to you gets COVID-19, have a plan in place to ensure you are not caught off guard. 

For testing, visit the BCCDC’s website to find out where your nearest COVID-19 testing location is. 

Your preparation will differ if you live in a shared place, such as with family or roommates. For example, would it be possible for the infected person to stay in a separate room with a separate bathroom? If not, how will the house members manage cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces? Consider having a meeting with your household to develop an isolation plan. 

At home, take stock of what you have. Check the expiry dates of your cold medications, make sure any other prescriptions are filled, and that you have enough household essentials. This could include tissues, toilet paper, hand soap, pantry staples, freezer meals, foods that you like to eat when you’re sick, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene items. Plan how you will get such items if you cannot leave your house. This can be through friends, family, or a delivery service. 

Lastly, be sure to take a look at SFU’s website for self-isolation support and resources. 

 

Eating on campus 

The risk of contracting COVID-19 increases in restaurants and bars since there isn’t always a six-foot distance between individuals, there are prolonged periods of being unmasked, and COVID-19 is airborne. While dining in on-campus restaurants, try to use cashless payment methods and take your food to go or sit outside. Also, remember to wash your hands or use sanitizer before eating. 

During class breaks, find an open space, preferably outside and away from others to eat your snack. The fresh air will also do you some good — especially if you’re contemplating grabbing that third coffee of the day.