Education on campus is coming under renewed pressure now the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak is upon us. We asked students and staff if they think face masks would help keep the campus open. ‘I would feel a little safer, but still not safe.’
Almost all the desks in the Forum were occupied by students on Tuesday last week. Hardly anyone was wearing a face mask, in spite of the government’s strong advice to wear them indoors. Just one Master’s student of Food Technology, who doesn’t want her name in Resource, was wearing a face mask. ‘It’s not much to ask and it makes it a bit safer, so why not? If more people wear masks, it restricts the virus transmission, although I don’t think you can prevent the coronavirus spreading by doing this.’
I come to campus as little as possible
The student wasn’t attending lectures on campus, she only came for a compulsory practical and happened to be working here because she couldn’t go home at that point. ‘I come to campus as little as possible. That is for safety reasons: I’d rather not fall ill.’ But surely most infections are passed on in student houses? ‘In my student house we are very careful. We hardly have any visitors.’
A receptionist on campus, who would also rather stay anonymous, always wears a face mask in shops and public buildings, but not at the reception desk because there she sits behind plexiglass and ‘people need to be able to understand me’. She is quite anxious because she belongs to a vulnerable group. ‘If I got coronavirus I would probably end up in intensive care.’ She was scared when the outbreak started in March too.
If I got coronavirus I would probably end up in intensive care
She worked at home for three months, but felt very guilty because that meant her colleagues had to do extra shifts on campus. ‘Since they installed plexiglass screens, I have felt confident enough, also because the outbreak seemed to be under control. But now that cases are going up, I feel quite anxious again. But I’m still working on campus, partly because some of my colleagues are sick or on holiday.’ Would it be helpful for her if everyone wore face masks? ‘I would feel a bit safer, but still not really safe.’
Ecology teacher Elmar Veenendaal is in a vulnerable group too. He keeps his teaching on campus to a minimum. ‘You shouldn’t tempt fate.’ He teaches Ecology I, a course in which 500 students go on a field trip. ‘We’ve set that up online now, with films and extra exercises, because we didn’t think we could guarantee safety. You don’t want 100 students all standing on a small ferry together.’ In another first-year practical for 35 students, Veenendaal has added extra field practicals. ‘Three teachers do that between us. It is very important that students get to know each other and the teachers, and that is perfectly possible in such a small practical.’
You shouldn’t tempt fate
Would he benefit from the use of face masks? ‘They help a bit, but they don’t solve my problem. I want to divide students into small groups so I can operate safely. I’m on campus now, and I wear a face mask, but soon I’ll be going into the field again with a group of students. I don’t need the campus to get enough contact time with my students. Whether you’re a teacher or a student in a vulnerable group, we should organize things so that everyone can join in.’
A Master’s student of Organic Agriculture, who doesn’t want to be named in Resource, hasn’t been on campus for five months (including periods 5 and 6). The reason: her parents needed a carer and because of shortages in the health service, that task fell to her. ‘I was pretty stressed at that time. If I had contracted coronavirus, we would have had a big problem in my family.’ Now that her parents have home care again, she comes to campus.
If I had contracted coronavirus, we would have had a big problem in my family
‘Twice a week on average, but everyone should keep well away from me. At the lectures that is no problem: then there are 15 of us in a room for 30 people. It’s only crowded when you are looking for a work station, as there is a shortage of those on campus.’ Would face masks help? ‘As I understand it, most infections in Wageningen are passed on off-campus. If it turned out that people were getting infected on campus, then I would see it as a logical step to go for face masks to reduce the risks.’
Student Irene van der Boom, who represent VeSte on the Student Council, thinks that the new government policy on face masks might benefit the quality of education. ‘At the moment the university is looking into the scope for expanding the capacity of the campus so that more students can attend classes in person. If face masks are a good option for increasing the university’s occupation rate, VeSte would not be against it. Face-to-face classes are important for the quality of the education and for students’ mental health.’