Private Halls: Students unaware of the COVID-19 cases in their own accommodation
Online Editor, Maddie Baker, speaks to Exeter students who are living in private halls to uncover why COVID-19 cases remain unknown and how students feel about this.
Exeter students living in privately-owned halls of residences are not being informed about the number of COVID-19 cases in their accommodation.
They have expressed concern that this lack of awareness means they are uninformed about the real situation in their halls and fear it could restrict their movements – as seen in Bristol with university-owned halls, The Courtrooms, locking-down 300 students on 9 October. Their concern seems especially valid considering the University Registrar Mike Shore-Nye’s most recent email indicating that ‘over the 7-day period up to 6 October there were 532 cases recorded in Exeter’ and, of this, approximately 426 were from the student community. MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw also attended Parliament on October 12 and indicated concern about the number of cases in the student population. Living in halls comes with greater risk due to the larger numbers of people and also because there is no guarantee that every resident is taking the same level of precautions.
‘It’s important to talk about private accommodation because they are not university residences, but they have the same risk and it’s just not on the University’s radar.’
I spoke to a Third-Year student living in Cricket Field Court, a private hall of residence owned by the company Fresh Student Living. She made clear that the accommodation had made preparations for dealing with coronavirus – with handbooks being given out and rules put in place – but noticed that it has been harder to enforce these regulations. She went on to say ‘People here don’t have the threat of estate patrol turning up, as it’s not a University residence, so it’s difficult to manage,’ and added ‘They had good intentions setting up all these rules but, in practice, none of them are working and it doesn’t feel very safe.’
There has been extensive media coverage of the situation for students living in university-owned halls, but this student believes ‘It’s important to talk about private accommodation because they are not university residences, but they have the same risk and it’s just not on the University’s radar.’ For her, as well as a significant number of Exeter students, she has no face-to-face teaching and feels ‘I have no reason to be in Exeter. And now, I’m just at greater risk because of the situation I’m living in.’
‘They had good intentions setting up all these rules but, in practice, none of them are working and it doesn’t feel very safe.’
Without knowing the number of COVID-19 cases in her accommodation, the student commented that she is unsure of what level her risk is. She is aware that some students have been breaking the rules, with emails being sent out in response to several parties within the block, but added that she is concerned no further action seems to have been taken. With that in mind, she believes it is very likely there are cases in her accommodation. This is something that worries her because ‘Although I and my friends living in the accommodation do not have any health conditions, we have people to go home to that do.’
Cricket Field Court is one of various privately-owned student accommodation in Exeter. There has been concern from students living in other private halls, including the Printworks owned by Host, that they have not published figures for COVID-19 cases either.
Devon County Council (DCC) provide a comprehensive dashboard of Covid-19 information for Devon and Cornwall… The dashboards provide daily information on the number of positive cases and rolling 7-day totals and don’t provide individual accommodation level data…University of Exeter spokesperson
In response to this article, a University spokesperson commented that: “We recognise that this is a very challenging time for all our students. We are, and remain, in regular contact with all students and staff to relay the latest Government information, and remind them of the necessity to follow these rules fully. Devon County Council (DCC) provide a comprehensive dashboard of Covid-19 information for Devon and Cornwall. This shows the authoritative data from Public Health England. The dashboards provide daily information on the number of positive cases and rolling 7-day totals and don’t provide individual accommodation level data. The University is providing a wide range of support for students, including wellbeing support. If any students have any specific concerns that they feel are not being addressed we would urge them to contact the University directly so that we can assist as quickly and effectively as possible.”