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    Q&A: coronavirus measures VUB

    Vice Rector Jan Danckaert answered questions of VUB students during a livestream on Facebook. Did you miss it? You can find all the questions and answers down below.

    ►Code orange or code red?

    Why does the VUB switch to code orange on 19 October?

    The corona numbers keep rising, and they do so very fast. For that reason, we need to tighten up the measures. We have started under code yellow and have tried to keep it that way for as long as possible, but at a certain point, we cannot justify that anymore. Not towards the academic community, not towards the outside world.

    We continuously consult with the Flemish and Brussels institutions and Brussels mayors and react depending on our own context. In Brussels, the situation is particularly critical. That’s why we switch from code yellow to code orange. That means theoretical and practical classes can still continue on campus, but the capacity rate for lectures decreases to 1 in 5 instead of 1 in 2. In lab classrooms, the capacity rate stays 1 in 2, on condition that all safety measures are guaranteed. Those are: wearing a face mask everywhere, keeping distance, disinfecting hands, ventilating the classrooms sufficiently.

    Some faculties and programmes choose to go one step further. It’s possible that some programmes and professors prefer to teach online, which is allowed. At the same time, we asked faculties and programmes to prepare themselves for code red. We have not made that decision yet, but we want to be ready from 26 October if it seems necessary. Code red is still not as strict as the lockdown we had to switch to in the middle of March. Under code red, activities can still take place, be it in an even more restricted way. We are considering how we can enable limited physical communication, even in that situation.

    When do we switch to code red?

    That depends on the numbers, which we monitor continuously. For now, the situation at the VUB is looking good. With about twenty infections per week, we are far below the numbers in the rest of Brussels, but we shouldn’t entertain illusions about that.

    We are not an island in the city, we all interact, so we should expect and prepare for rising numbers on our campuses. We continue to consult and make a decision within the institution. It’s also possible that the government decides for us. If the government introduces the much-discussed barometer, we have to be ready.

    If we switch to code orange or red, will that be the situation for the entire semester?

    Internally, we decided that if we switch to code orange or red, that will apply to the entire semester, in this case until winter holidays. We do this to avoid uncertainty and to not have to go back and forth all the time. It’s best to prepare ourselves for those codes and everything that comes with those. If you look at the numbers and the predictions of the biostatisticians, the curves are rising faster than they descend, so it is very improbable that we can switch back before the end of the semester.

    What is code orange?

    Switching to code orange does not mean we will go completely digital. Click here for more info.

    ►Safety & well-being

    Which measures are being taken to guarantee the safety of students on campus?

    First and foremost, there are the general measures, like wearing a face mask and wearing it right (so it covers both mouth ánd nose). That is absolutely necessary to prevent infection and circulation. We also take hygiene measures. Facility services make sure hand sanitiser and sprays are available everywhere to disinfect your hands and desks. The capacity rates for classrooms and meeting rooms have been determined to ensure that all classes and meetings can take place safely.

    What does the VUB do for students’ mental well-being?

    As always, our student psychologists are ready, and like during normal times, there is a waiting period. But, every question is observed or referred, in the case of specific problems as well. For example, we cooperate with the ‘Centrum voor Algemeen Welzijn’ (centre for general well-being).

    The staff of Study Guidance wants to give you the necessary support through the digital workshops: Boost your resilience in times of COVID-19. This workshop will take place on October 26 at 17:00-18:00. More information about this (and other) workshop(s), and how to participate, can be found via the website. Furthermore, we are there for you through individual guidance, or by helping you get the right information/the kind of guidance that you are looking for at our Meeting Point.

    Do first-year students get extra guidance?

    First-year students have graduated from high school under very unique measures and are starting higher education in unique circumstances. The VUB specifically tries to take into account this group by starting projects like the buddy and guidance projects. Student input is definitely welcome, so let us know your needs and suggestions via begeleiding@vub.be. When we switch to code orange or red, we will definitely take into account the first-year students and see what we can do for them especially.


    What if, for a particular reason, I don’t want to visit the campuses?

    For students who, for whatever reason, cannot be in class, we ask teachers to provide as much course material online as possible. On the other hand, there are very specific situations in which physical attendance is mandatory, because you cannot do the exercises from home from behind your computer. The teacher from that course could then make you come to campus a couple of times per week.

    What if professors refuse to record lectures?

    If there is no specific reason for that, you can contact the ombudsperson of your faculty. If the problem continues, the vice-rector Education will look into it.

    ►Practical questions

    Can I ask back my credits?

    During the first semester, up until 15 October (just like under normal circumstances), you can deregister from one or more programme parts without any consequences concerning your learning account. The tuition fee of that part will be reimbursed. After 15 October, you need the dean’s permission to deregister.

    What influence do code orange or code red have on the financial aspect of my studies?

    It doesn’t have any influence. During the lockdown in the past academic year, we have also been able to reach our learning aims and we organised exams and graduations. Code orange or red is no reason to reimburse a tuition fee. There is one exception for international students who have registered, but cannot travel to Brussels because of travel limitations. They can cancel their registration. Students who have questions about study finances can go to the Student administration and Social legal & financial support.

    ►Student housing

    What impact do code orange and red have on ‘kot’ students (staying in an apartment)?

    Students can continue to use their ‘kot’ at any time, but there are important measures based on the government’s measures that apply there as well. Your ‘kot’ is like a household. The government decided you can invite a maximum of 4 people if you can keep your distance. For the VUB ‘koten’, we are a bit stricter; you can invite a maximum of 3 people, because otherwise, you cannot keep enough distance in the common rooms.

    Definitely make agreements about this with your fellow ‘kot’ students, so everyone feels comfortable and sticks to the rules, including at private ‘koten’. If you have more questions, you can always go to the housing service and your own ‘kot’ manager.

    Also, be aware that traveling to and from your ‘kot’ and home address always brings risks. Every time, you are mixing two households, so think about that. Especially when you are in contact with your (grand)parents and high-risk patients, you have to be careful, so keep your distance when possible.

    Does the corona crisis influence my ‘kot’s’ rent?

    At the moment, we cannot answer that, but we are deliberating over it and will let the students know as soon as possible. Students with a private ‘kot’ can go to their ‘kot’ manager.

    ►Facilities on campus

    Will study rooms stay open under code orange?

    Study rooms will stay open under code orange, in the same way it already happens today: via reservations and disinfecting of the desks. If we switch to code red, we will adjust the offer and work with a system like in May or June, and students with the highest needs will be given priority.

    Can we still exercise at the VUB?

    You can still exercise, but with some restrictions. We follow the rules determined on the level of sports federations. Outside, you can practise organised sports in groups, with or without contact. Inside, it’s only possible if you can keep a distance of 1.5 m. Contact sports are no longer allowed by the government. You can only play non-organised sports with your three close contacts. Check the website and Facebook page of the VUB sports service for more information.


    What does the VUB do when student is infected?

    Contact the Student Information if you tested positive. The Student Information makes note of it in an Excel file. In the case of ‘kot’ students, they contact the housing service. In the case of students who had close contacts during class, they inform the faculty. The faculty will then consult with the professor. In the case of contacts during student life in general, the person responsible from Student activities is contacted as well as BSG (Brussels Student Association) and the student associations involved. All students who came into contact with the infected student will be contacted.

    Can I be tested for COVID-19 at the VUB?

    In Etterbeek and Jette, you can be tested at the group practices, but just like all other doctors in Brussels, they are extremely busy right now. That’s why the VUB works together with TeleMedi, an online service that offers digital consultations. To get tested, you need a code to go to a test centre.

    If you have symptoms or are a high-risk patient, but do not have a code, you can also contact TeleMedi. They will give you a prescription with which you can go to a test centre. The group practice on campus prioritises international students who don’t have a national number yet and cannot simply go to test centres.

    ►Other questions

    Can I still do my internship under code orange?

    In the case of internships, we look at the rules of protocol applying to the sector of the internship. Again: if protocol is respected, internships can take place.

    What if international students must be in Belgium for their classes, but are not allowed to travel?

    That’s a difficult situation. We have to respect travel limitations by their or the Belgian government. If that means that a student cannot attend mandatory seminars, there is no other solution but to cancel the registration for that reason. We cannot go against the limitations of the government.

    Can student activities still take place?

    Yes, as much as possible and if they are corona proof. Most associations try to organise activities in a creative way. For example, eating and drinking are not allowed, so many activities get a new interpretation. Check the guidelines online.

    How is our rector Caroline Pauwels, after she tested positive?

    The rector has mild symptoms. She is a high-risk patient and has been tested at the hospital. She still actively takes part in online meetings and her morale is high. She has always respected the measures and will continue to do so. The message is clear; you should be careful in all circumstances. Limit your physical contacts and follow the other rules carefully.

    Why do we sometimes hear news from the press first instead of from the VUB itself?

    The goal is always to communicate internally first, but in the case of crisis communication, our telephones are ringing and sometimes we cannot wait to answer the press. In the specific case of code orange, vice-rector Jan Danckaert was interviewed about the previous academic year’s success rates, when all of a sudden, they asked a question about code orange. For that reason, communication happened sooner than anticipated, which we regret, but it was inevitable considering the circumstances.