On-Ground Situation of Covid on Campus: Live Article

On-Ground Situation of Covid on Campus: Live Article

Since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the world has been hanging on a thread. The new year did not bring forth any good news for the world. Just as things were beginning to settle down for this subcontinent and as college students awaited the notice of their college reopenings, the cases which had come to an all-time low saw a sudden peak sending the throng into a frenzy once more.

As the graph rose to new heights, a shadow of doom hung over the institutions that were preparing to reopen their campuses to students, one of which being NIT Rourkela. Within three days, the cases rose from a firma of nullity to a century. However, NIT Rourkela is not the only institute infected by the virus. Alongside NIT Hamirpur, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Roorkee, and IIT Varanasi, other institutes tiptoe on eggshells. As the number of instances grows, the crucial issue is, "What now?" What plans do the college officials have for dealing with the situation? Will the students be taken home or will they be allowed to stay on campus? With these questions in mind, continue reading to learn more about NIT Rourkela's present condition on the ground.

Initial Breakdown

Initially, PhD, MTech Final years and International students were called back to campus from 18th October 2021. Anyone who arrived had to present their Covid negative RTPCR report which must be done almost 72 hours before their arrival. The students had to complete their quarantine period of 7 days at KMS and MSS Hall of Residence following which they were allotted rooms in their respective hostels. On 18th  November 2021, the institute had chosen to call the final-year students in phases starting from 12th December 2021 because of the absolute neutrality of the cases a month prior. Final-year students from certain branches were expected to arrive in the first week of January (click here for detailed information). While everything was going smoothly and no instances were discovered, following the new year, there was a sudden influx of cases.

The first instance was reported on 3rd January 2022, according to Prof Rohan Dhiman, Head of Safety and Security Services and the overall in charge of handling the situation at NIT Rourkela. There were a total of 10 active cases, 3 among students and 7 among faculty and family members. 

It was among the students who had been confined. They tested positive on the seventh day of their quarantine. The confined students did not take the quarantine seriously, therefore when they tested positive, so did the others who were socializing with them. We didn't enforce a quarantine on faculty members entering the campus since there was no quarantine mandated by official norms; they were most likely infected with the virus. We assume they were also a source because they were moving around. The number of people has increased, but we're controlling it and will have it under control in a few days.

On 3rd January, Associate Dean Academics, Dr Nihar Ranjan Mishra circulated webmail stating the restricted entry to campus starting from 5th January. UG and PG students who were expected to arrive after 5th January were asked to hold up their travel plans until further orders from the administration. 

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Infogram

POSITIVE TO ISOLATION

With each day witnessing an alarming spike in the cases, daily mornings of the NIT Rourkela fraternity was engaged in checking up NITRis for updates on the total number of cases on campus. Every corridor in all the Halls of Residences had and still has a tense environment with Covid spreading like common flu among residents. On questioning the Chief Warden, Prof Niranjan Panda about the time range process of quarantine and treatment of Covid positive students and faculty, this is what he had to say – 

Students who test positive will be directed to the Rourkela General Hospital (RGH). The same may be said for the employees and their family members. Fortunately, no serious instances have been recorded yet, which is likely why they are being treated exclusively at RGH and the students are being isolated. Faculty members are being sequestered in their quarters at the same time. In the event of an emergency, patients will be referred to JP hospital's OPD exclusively for the time being.

Considering the unexpected spike in cases, the administration handed out a circular on 7th January, stating a new set of guidelines to be followed by everyone and rules to be followed:

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In certain Halls, students are provided with single rooms for quarantine while in others they are asked to stay in a sharing because of the unavailability of rooms. On being enquired about this issue and gathering at the mess, this is what Chief Warden had to say – 

Separation may be noticed in the mess as well. We erected a divider since MSS and DBA share a common mess facility, and food is delivered separately to quarantined students at their doorstep. We are currently providing isolation students with a single room on a two-student-over-sharing basis due to a lack of single rooms for isolation students. After 13th January, it may be possible to give each student a separate room. Positive-tested students are separated in North Block Guest House, while girls are quarantined in KMS hall. If the North Block guest house becomes full, more positive patients can be accommodated in KMS in various wings because the quarantine of the final year students will most likely be ended by the 12th or 13th of January.

Team MM got in touch with a Covid positive student on campus, to understand the facilities and treatment provided to all the patients. The process, as described, is as follows:

I called the caretaker when I tested positive, and she notified someone in the north guest house that I'd be quarantined there. On the last day of the quarantine, they made sure we had transportation from the guest house to RGH. I was transferred to the North guest house, where I was assigned a single room with a private bathroom. Three times a day, food was delivered directly to our rooms. The accommodation was spotless and well-kept. My only issue was that one of the windows was cracked, making it really cold at night. I also wish the institution had a doctor or staff who could write prescriptions for us. They did not give any medical assistance. Overall, it was a pleasant stay with good isolation and adherence to all covid guidelines.

TREATMENT OF THE COVID POSITIVE STUDENTS

The institute has allotted D-Block of MSS Hall of Residence for all the detected cases in isolation while girls were taken to North Guesthouse for the same purpose. Team Monday Morning(MM) approached wardens of all the halls of residence to know the process followed by the institute from detection to treatment of patients. According to the wardens of several halls, the following is how this procedure is carried out:

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Prof Partha Saha, Warden SD Hall: All of the information is kept by the Covid Task Force. Those who were determined to be positive were placed in the MSS Hall of Residence and kept completely secluded. The institution's health facility and the Rourkela Municipal Corporation(RMC) are caring for them. Their rooms are sanitized after they leave and secured until they return if they are discovered to be positive. They are treated according to the institute doctor's orders if their symptoms are light, and they are admitted to the hospital if the situation is serious. And after they are treated and found to be negative, they are sent back to their respective hostels.

Prof Monalisa Pattnaik, Warden KMS Hall: Everything described in the circular passed a day ago lays on the ground with my response, and the situation is under control. The pupils who tested positive are being sent to the North Guesthouse. We're doing everything we can, and the kids are doing their best to obey the guidelines. Everything is in order.

Prof Subrata Maiti, Warden MSS Hall: If they are discovered to be positive, they are sent to the hospital for more testing and medication. Although such a situation has not yet occurred, the student is sent to the hospital in the event of an emergency, and the institution ambulance is always available for transfer.

As for the students, the only positive they had was in their covid report. A few students cited their issues, 

The students were asked to wait for 4 hrs outside before they were allotted room. For the isolated home students, not all medicines are available in the health centre, so they have to get a few medicines from outside through any friend or staff they know. They are given food in their rooms but the food given is less than we get in a mess. There are no proper washrooms assigned. Floor corridors are being sanitized.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they must assume full responsibility. After receiving results, the student must report to the gate guards, after which you will be transferred to the dormitory and must report to the caretaker. This is followed by a lengthy series of formalities and procedures. The unfortunate fact is that the administration provides no assistance at all, and the patient has to endure the consequences.  One of my friends who tested positive had to return to his hostel room and bring his own mattress for isolation. These should be the responsibility of the administration.

On 10th January 2022, the institute handed out yet another circular that stated the alarming situation on campus. The campus was to be sealed on January 12th and 13th and students were asked to leave the campus within the next week. In such a situation when daily over 2 Lakh cases are being reported and it's highly unsafe for students to go back to their home via any mode of transport the administration instead of protecting the students from the dreaded virus generated a notice stating that- The institute authorities would not be held responsible for their health”. Over the last two years, there has been an increasing trend of the administration claiming not to be responsible for certain situations which is extremely saddening to see. 

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HOME ISOLATION SCENARIO

MM: What measures are being taken for the students in home isolation? What facilities are there for their food? Are they given their water dispensers and bathrooms to prevent interaction with other students?

Prof Madhurima Jana, Warden CVR Hall: We have strictly told all the boarders to be inside their hostel rooms, and we are putting a tag on their door and dedicating a designated bathroom for them, and CRB’s(Common Room Bearers) are working hard in that direction. They are being given their food to their rooms. Since the cases are rising, the boarders should follow the covid protocols provided by the institute. If we find more isolated students on a floor, then we can indeed designate a separate water cooler for them; I will talk to the CRB's and find that out; that can be done.

Prof A K Singh, Warden DBA Hall: When it is being cooked or packaged, all the proper protocols are followed. MSS is a specific hall devoted only to covid positive students and quarantine students who are kept separately, and the isolations students are kept in separate wings. The pieces of information are written in every nook and corner of the hostel not to mingle. However, the wardens found exceptions. The wardens are vigilant and try to avoid such situations, but there may be situations where some students come out and try to mix together with others. 

A home-isolation student expressed their views on the treatments and facilities given to them.

We were told only to stay in our rooms only and use the washroom and not roam about. Food was provided to us by mess people. We were informed to take an antigen test too. Personally, I feel that if they isolate people in a separate block, it would be safer as it would reduce the spread of covid. Isolation stickers are present at proper places.

SANITIZATION FACILITIES AVAILED 

The most common and necessary guideline as given by health organisations across the world is to use sanitisers frequently in order to stay safe from the virus. Hostels, messes, and washrooms are places where gatherings are difficult but not impossible to avoid must have sanitisers placed so that people visiting and leaving those places can use them.

Team MM approached Wardens to inquire if proper resources were available for students, and staff present in all the Halls of residences. Here are the inputs – 

Warden SD Hall: Sanitizers are not available in the hostel corridors or rooms. Masks aren't handed out either. Since the pandemic began two years ago, everyone must take precautions, such as carrying hand sanitisers or wearing masks. However, you may use sanitisers if you go to the mess hall and ask for them.

Prof Suvendu R Pattanaik, Warden VS Hall: All of our students are responsible and follow the rules. We're encouraging people to wear masks and stay at a safe distance from one another, and we're handing out hand sanitisers throughout the hall. Additionally, any locations where a crowd would congregate, such as the gym and reading room, have lately been closed. Considering the number of students that tested positive, I believe the issue in VS is under control at the moment.

Warden DBA Hall: If a student is determined to be positive, their room is sterilized first to avoid infecting their roommates. The cleaners come in and clean everything, but the regularity with which the wings and corridors are cleaned is unknown. If I were to focus on DBA particularly, four students were determined to be positive, and all of the rooms were clean and well-maintained. The rooms have been locked and are currently unoccupied. There is no one residing in those rooms. RMC personnel arrived today, i.e. and sterilized nearly every inch of the campus. With everything, including a machine. They've disinfected everything. The cleaners are cleaning the halls, but sanitization is contingent on whether or not someone is discovered positive.

If anybody is discovered positive, the caretaker usually informs/reports it to the chief warden's office, and all the devices are maintained there. When the communication is received, the pros arrive and clean things up. It is not tolerated in hostels; it's held at the chief warden's office. 

COMMON UTENSILS AT MESS

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In pic – Mess, CVR Hall of Residence

While gatherings at the mess are seen as an unsolvable issue, the sharing of common utensils such as plates and jugs is an issue that hasn’t been addressed efficiently. With the number of cases on campus, people who frequently move out of their halls might be exposed to a risk of transmission from unknown sources. Until the cases are detected, everyone shares common utensils and jugs. While usage of personal plates, spoons and water bottles are highly encouraged, Team MM gathered information on this issue. Here are the inputs -

Warden MSS Hall: There are water purifiers for filling water in the D block of MSS hall, where the students are kept. The food will be provided to them at their doorstep, so they don’t need to go to the mess. The washrooms are regularly sanitized, and they have been separated for the Covid +ve students so that the other students don’t use them and the outbreak is prevented.

Warden VS Hall: As for the use of standard jugs and utensils, if we receive any direction from the covid committee or Chief Warden Office, we will implement it.

Warden DBA Hall: Jugs are there, but those students who are well aware don't use them; for example, I personally request the students to bring their own utensils and take the food to their room and eat it over there. But when we take about a mess, the sharing of utensils like jugs are always there. It shouldn't happen in this way and we must try to avoid as much as we can.  

CLEANING STAFF 

Not just the students and faculty members, but all the working staff residing inside the campus are also exposed to severe risk of exposure to the virus. Mess staff and sanitising and cleaning staff are expected to be provided with proper PPE kits, gloves, sanitisers, masks by the institution and follow all the covid guidelines as expected out of students for everyone’s safety. 

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Above – Sanitisation worker at CVR Hall of Residence

MM: Cleaning staff and sanitation workers aren't found wearing PPE kits. Rooms and floors of infected people are sanitized only after students notify from their end. Can something be done about this? 

Warden CVR Hall: The mess workers are cleaning with hot water and other preventive methods whatever they can take, but this is a mess, so the students themselves have to keep the guidelines in mind. Some students take their food to their room so that facility is being provided. As for the serving spoons, we have to keep some things like daal and rice on the table as the boarders very frequently take that. However, the mess workers are wearing gloves and observing precautions. If the students demand we can have such a facility, we can support one counter specifically for rice and daal, but I have not heard of any such demand from the students.

Warden DBA Hall: In our hall, cleaners have their own attire; the people who are doing the sanitization are always wearing the PPE suit. I personally saw that. I observed that they (mess staff) were wearing masks, disposable gloves, and headgear. The full PPE bodysuits are not there. I've seen students standing in the queues not wearing masks; I personally requested them but in vain. But it also has to be dealt with so that nobody gets offended or infected so. 

COVID COMMITTEE

MM: Has any committee been appointed to ensure that the protocols are carefully followed?

Prof Rohan Dhiman: The covid-19 surveillance committee, which consists of a safety and security team, checks whether everyone is wearing a mask or not and checks the occupancy of the eateries. As of now, the eateries on campus have been closed to contain the spread. 

Warden DBA Hall: Many of the times, students jump out of the compound and sneak through the gates; what happens then is the particular security person informs the warden and tries to catch them. The chief warden personally visits. There were 1-2 instances where the parents were called in, and they had taken the students because they had specific addiction or psychological issues in those 1-2 instances. Apart from that, yes, this kind of thing happens, the student is informed educated from our end, but yes, there is a committee that is in the business of tracking down the students who were in contact with a covid positive student. They also try to track down possible cases after that. But since the numbers shot up and rose very fast, now it's almost futile. Students are not following the appropriate covid behaviour. Some specific instances have been found, and they have been dealt with. In a few cases, the parents were called, and the students were sent back. 

Warden MSS Hall: We have kept notices in all the halls and corridors so that all students understand that COVID-positive students are in the D block of the hall. So, they won’t go there. People have not been assigned to monitor the corridors and see if someone has broken the rules because we think the students are well learned to understand its effects and repercussions.

MM: With a lot of confusion on the source of covid cases, why hasn't the institute conducted gene testing to check if there is Omicron inside the campus?

Chief Warden: Now, since the institute doesn't do the gene testing but the RGH (Rourkela Govt Hospital). So we did everything the RGH advised, and at Rourkela RGH and Jai Prakash Hospital and Research Centre, only these two hospitals have been allowed the authority to handle covid cases; even CWS is not permitted to treat the patients. We can't do anything on that front, regardless of whether the variety is omicron, delta, or simply covid. Whatever counsel they give us, we will take. In addition, we are sending students, staff members, and their families to RGH or government COVID test centres. If they detect anything, they refer the patient to RT-PCR; otherwise, they only do the antigen test and provide the report. At the moment, I'm not certain, but one instance of omicron may be present on campus.

Prof Rohan Dhiman: We are dependent on RMC, so if they think there is a requirement of gene testing and RTPCR, that's at a government level, and they have to tell us. If they tell us tomorrow that they will test the students, we will comply, but we can't do anything from our side. 

RMC and NIT Rourkela 

On 8th January 2022, a team from Rourkela Municipal Corporation visited the campus for conducting an antigen testing camp. The camp was held in Community Centre from 10:30 AM to 5 PM and was open to students, employees, and family members. A webmail was also circulated stating all the guidelines and new rules and regulations formulated by the institution to contain the spread of Covid as directed by the Government of Odisha. On 12th January, RMC Commissioner, Dr Subhankar Mohapatraa visited NIT Rourkela to review the Covid situation on campus. To control the spread, a testing camp is being facilitated in the premises supported by RMC. 

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Above – Testing camp conducted by RMC on 8th January 2022.

MM: How cooperative is Rourkela Municipal Corporation with regards to increasing cases and unavailability of emergency services at the nearest call? 

Chief Warden: Rourkela Municipal Corporation has a single fast response squad. They came to our college and gave medications to our students as well as other good faculty members. Their visits are not consistent, but when there were a bigger number of covid positive patients, they used to visit them rather frequently to deliver medicine. Rourkela Municipal Corporation has also contributed to the antigen camp.

Prof Rohan Dhiman: They have been very cooperative, and they're giving us all the support they can, but they are also bound by government rules, like who can be tested, the isolation period, etc. Although we are self-sufficient in many ways because we have a pharmacy here, a doctor, and a marketplace, students don’t have to go out for anything. It's a gated community, so it'll be because of not following the quarantine and rule-breaking if there is a spread.

MM: Will there be mass testing on campus?

Prof. Rohan Dhiman: We had a meeting with the commissioner and deputy commissioner of RMC itself. We will be conducting tests in the next few days. As per their advice, according to government guidelines, we can’t test asymptomatic people, so soon, we will be circulating a google form for the testing.

RMC meet

In pic – RMC meeting with NIT Rourkela officials. Courtesy – RMC Twitter

ISSUES STILL PENDING

MM: Some halls have two students residing in one room which might increase the risk of transmission. What do you plan on doing regarding this issue?

CW: Some second and third-year students are sharing one room due to the availability of our hall rooms. The MB and GDB hostels are blocked by the students who have not come as of now. I understand your worry, but we must accommodate the students within the constraints of our resources.

Though there is a tense atmosphere on all fronts, the NIT Rourkela Administration has to be appreciated for containing the spread in the initial few months of the arrival of students to campus. A number of decisions have been taken in the right direction, while a lot more of them came really late. Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing measures, not forming groups of more than five, issuing a lockdown for a few days and night curfews are some of the primary and most effective steps.

While the overall administration has responded well, some steps and micro-management in the halls could still be taken so that the management of cases can be made even better.

  1. Sanitisation bottles are not provided in most places so, they must be provided at least at the main entrance of each building.
  2. All washrooms, corridors, the mess in the halls of residence must be frequently and regularly sanitized and not only when a student goes and notifies. 
  3. The mess should contain dine-in facilities and encourage the usage of personal utensils as far as possible.
  4. The mess workers should personally allocate the food for students instead of the students doing it by themselves for it may increase the transmission possibilities.
  5. The institute must take steps to trace the source for each case as much as possible so that the increase of cases may stop.

Curbing the spread of Covid on campus is a two-way effort. While the administration takes decisions viewing all perspectives, the students must also avoid social gatherings as much as possible for everyone’s safety. The authorities have felt the support from students decline, Prof. Rohan Dhiman stated, 

The students are inter-mingling in the quarantine. I can't put a security guard in front of each room. The students are aware of this disease and our know-how to stay safe. But they refuse to follow guidelines, and if the guard stops them, they fight with the guard. They're jumping over the boundaries and going to the eateries. They invite their friends and have a party even though they are not allowed to. Even the eateries on campus are not functioning at 50% capacity, so they were asked to be shut down. There is a 9 pm curfew that the students are not being followed either. 

Everyone is solemnly requested to follow the COVID guidelines as per the circulars issued by the institute so that the situation is controlled and the institute premises are safe, again.

SITUATIONS ACROSS INSTITUTIONS

The surge in covid cases isn't limited to NIT Rourkela. At IIT Kharagpur, the cases started spiking from 2nd January. There are over 200 cases on campus now. The administration acted very swiftly and put all the residence halls under lockdown. The entire semester will be conducted online. The administration isn’t sending the students home, but they can leave the campus with permission from the warden, dean, and other officials.

The guidelines are strictly followed, and the covid positive students are being quarantined. Because the halls are under lockdown, it is easy to trace the cases. The students appreciate the appropriate actions of the admins. 

At IIT BHU, there are hardly 20 cases on campus, but strict actions have been taken. Frequent cleaning of the workplace and the tiffin mess workers supply food till the gate. Quarantine centres have also been declared. 

According to a student at IIT Roorkee

Nearly 50 people have tested positive, with the majority being faculty members and their families and PhD students. Strict protocols have been put into place- Students are allowed outside the campus for only 90 minutes. The hostels are closed from 11 pm to 6 am. The classes have been online themselves. Some of the hostels are completely sealed as of now.

There has been no mass testing, but students in close contact with covid positive students have been tested. The positive students are then transferred to a different building. The response of the administration was really quick. They closed the campus before a lot of the students tested positive. 

However, a student from NIT Trichy had an experience which was quite the opposite, 

The cases spiked around two weeks ago, and now 50 people have tested positive, but there hasn’t been a strict lockdown. The pre-final year students and final year students have mostly vacated the campus. The 4th semester is going to be online.

The students are being tested, but there is room for improvement for the protocols. The administration is giving students the option of going back, but they might send everyone home soon. Their delayed actions caused the situation to worsen. The pre-final year students were advised to go back home just after a week of being on campus.

At NIT Hamirpur, the situation got out of hand very soon, 

The total number of students infected by Coronavirus in the institute shot up to 173 in just four days. The institute in Hamirpur was already declared a 'mini containment zone' on January 7 to check the spread of the virus. A total of 42 students of NIT Hamirpur tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6, 39 on January 7 and 59 on the next day, the official said. As of the 13th of January, there are a total of 438 cases on campus. 

No quarantine policy for negative-tested returning students can be considered one of the administration's biggest blunders, which later resulted in the spread of covid on campus, as students later came into contact with covid-infected NSS group students, who are now being blamed for the virus's spread

In conclusion, 

As the number of affected students surges across the campus grounds, shattering old records, it’s pertinent to know what the road ahead looks like. However, it is most important to stay optimistic in these times and hold onto the little hope that soon everything will return back to normality with students and administration working on their respective foregrounds to tackle the breakout. Here is what the wardens convey to the students:
SD warden, 

My only request to all is not to panic. We have already survived the past two years, and although it has taken many lives, we have learned many things, so be calm, follow all the rules and protocols, and be controlled soon. So, concentrate on your studies and follow the rules and this shall all pass.

This article will remain live, i.e, any updates on the upcoming semester would be updated in this article itself. Stay tuned!

Team Monday Morning wishes for the speedy recovery of those affected and requests all the readers to kindly adhere to Covid appropriate behaviour and work together for a safer tomorrow. 

Designs by – Saksham Devkota

DISCLAIMER: The content, opinions or views expressed on the Monday Morning's website and its social media platforms, including, but not limited to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, are strictly the property of Monday Morning and represent the extensive research and work of the working team of respective academic year of Monday Morning and not those of the institute. The reports and statements published are consolidated from the collected background research and interviews. The institute's official statements can be found in the press releases published by the institute or via an RTI application.

No article or any statements by Monday Morning is to be reproduced, presented or distributed in part or whole without prior permission of the Executive Body of Monday Morning for any purposes, including, but not limited to print and electronic form.



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