The UU corona line: ‘You want to be able to talk to someone if you’re unsure what to do’
No, the phone number where you can reach Anita Nieuwenhuis and her colleagues Paul Odinot and Mark ten Tusscher isn’t advertised all that publicly. This is to prevent that half the country is going to approach the three UU employees of the Department of Safety & Environment for all types of corona-related questions. “We recently had someone call who wanted to know whether it would be advisable to visit his family in Utrecht. No idea how he ended up with us,” Nieuwenhuis laughs.
The phone number for the university’s ‘corona line’ can be found online and is meant for students and employees who already know the information about corona measures that’s published on the UU website, but still have questions. Nieuwenhuis: “Sometimes, people wonder how they should interpret something, and in certain situations, they just want to be able to talk to a real person to discuss what to do.”
Information services, study desks and reception desks can also refer people to them if callers or visitors have questions about corona that they don’t know the answer to. She’s noticed that the need for additional information has slowly been increasing, now the number of infections is on the rise as well. While in early September, around three people called per week, that had climbed to thirteen by early October.
Better safe than sorry
Most questions come from students, teachers, tutors, and coordinators, who wish to know what to do when a student has tested positive after being in a workgroup with others. Can in-person classes continue? Should they inform the other students?
Nieuwenhuis: “Although we’ve designed the classes in such a way that students are always 1.5 metres apart, it’s possible that we’ll still advise to teach online for a week. For instance because the students went out for a drink afterwards. Better safe than sorry. Informing other students by naming someone is not done, because of privacy regulations, even if perhaps everyone already knows who it’s about.”
Nieuwenhuis’ team is also occasionally approached with the question of employees can use the national priority regulations for corona tests – these are, for instance, employees working in veterinary care. “After all, that’s health care too, they say. Just like others say that university education is also education. Unfortunately, neither category is listed as priority category by the government.”
At Veterinary Medicine, the treatment of sick animals was almost in jeopardy as a result of the high number of sick and quarantined employees. In the end, the UU decided not to answer to the call for using commercial testing bureaus.
Nieuwenhuis, who’s a psychologist, and her colleagues also keep in close contact with the Utrecht GGD, through the corona number. When, around the summer, university education on location started again, GGD employees didn’t always know who to call. In some cases, initial contact went through a UU reception. Now, it’s much clearer how communication should take place. “Although it’s still complicated at times, for instance when a student or employee lives in a different region, and we’re dealing with a different GGD than the Utrecht one.”
By now, the contact tracing studies by the GGD have also been downscaled. Nieuwenhuis thinks another reason the UU phone number is receiving more calls is that infected students and employees are now asked by the GGD to identify their own contacts, and warn them.
No university contact tracing
Because of privacy laws, the UU cannot do any contact tracing studies itself. “What we’re doing as university right now is: advise, assist the GGD, and letting people know – in general terms – that it’s important for a group of students to keep an eye on their health, without it being traceable to a certain person. To help prevent further infections, we’re now working with privacy experts to find out what our maximum contribution could be to the contact tracing studies.”
So far, there hasn’t been a hotbed of infections at the UU; there hasn’t even been a suspicion of one. “That can be a sign that the university has done well in letting many students and teachers work from home. And those who do come to the university, are in buildings where keeping one’s distance is actually possible.”
The university’s corona number can be reached seven days a week. For now, Nieuwenhuis and her two colleagues have managed to respond to every question (“As employee of Safety and Environment, we’re already always stand by; after all, an incident can happen at any time”).
The three each have their own expertise, and are in quick contact with each other for discussions, Nieuwenhuis knows. “So far, it’s doable, and we’ve been able to respond to every question pretty quickly. Thankfully, most of the information is also listed on the website, and people have been able to find that, too.”