Stellenbosch University
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The FMHS and COVID-19
Author: Prof Jimmy Volmink
Published: 16/03/2020

We would like to assure you that the management of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) and our faculty contingency committee are closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19. As you will appreciate the situation remains fluid, and we will therefore endeavour to be as agile as possible and keep you informed as developments unfold.

Given the 'national state of disaster' announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last night, our actions need to be aligned to decisions taken by Cabinet and the relevant Ministers. Our decisions will also continue to be guided by information provided by, amongst others, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Institutional Committee for Business Continuity, the Western Cape Government Department of Health (WCGDOH), the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and infectious diseases experts in our various departments.

While our interventions are aligned with those of SU Management, we believe that certain faculty-specific measures are warranted due to our colleagues and students working and/or training in healthcare settings.

In order to ensure that we comply with the current governmental provisions and the decisions taken by SU Management, the Vice Dean: Learning and Teaching today met with the various programme coordinators and module chairs. The following decisions were taken:

  1. Lectures with groups of students of more than 100 will not proceed in contact format. The respective programme coordinator and/or module chair will communicate alternative arrangements to present content via electronic or other means.
  2. Assessments will continue, although venues may change. Such changes will be communicated by the respective programme coordinator and/or module chair.
  3. Clinical training will continue for all senior students for all programmes, although this may need to be modified. Alternative arrangements will be made for junior students and these details will be communicated by the respective programme coordinator and/or module chair.

It is clear that one of the most important steps we can take at this stage is to help contain the spread of the disease. We therefore wish to bring the following to your attention:

  1. Posters will be placed in bathrooms reminding everyone about the correct hand-washing protocol with soap and water.
  2. In places where water is not available, such as entrances to faculty buildings and high-traffic areas, hand sanitiser will be made available. We will ensure that high-use surfaces such as desks in lecture halls are cleaned with appropriate products at least twice daily.
  3. Please keep in mind the importance of social distancing (maintain a distance of 1 metre from others, where possible, and refrain from shaking hands) and cough etiquette (coughing or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or a tissue that you dispose of immediately). Also refrain from touching your face, so as to avoid delivering the virus into your respiratory tract.
  4. In the clinical areas, we urge you to exercise universal precautions for infection prevention and control (IPC) and to use the correct level of prevention for the level of risk exposure. Please put on, take off and dispose of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the correct way.
  5. If you are not symptomatic, it is not necessary to wear a mask during normal daily activities, bearing in mind that there is currently a worldwide shortage of masks. When doing a procedure where there is a risk of droplet spread, wear a surgical mask, eye protection, a plastic apron and gloves. N95 masks should only be used for procedures where there is the potential of aerosol spread. Click here for an IPC guideline by the WCGDOH. Information on the correct use of N95 masks is available here.
  6. We earnestly call upon all staff and students to act in a socially responsible manner to help prevent or slow the spread of the disease. Please follow the guidelines provided by the World Organisation (WHO) available here. We also urge you to familiarise yourself with the rights, roles and responsibilities of healthcare workers, available here.
  7. The WCGDOH's dedicated website that provides the official and up to date status in the Western Cape is available here. Information about coping with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here. A comprehensive list of resources is available on the NICD website here and informative videos are available here.
  8. We also refer you to the dedicated website created by SU with content on COVID-19 that is available here. Please note this site is updated regularly.
  9. Further, the National Department of Health has launched a WhatsApp service where accurate news and information is made available via an interactive menu. You can add the number 0600 123 456 as a WhatsApp contact and type “Hi" in the message block. This is not a WhatsApp group and you will only receive information if you request it.
  10. If you suspect that you may have the disease, please do not come to work or class and do not go to a healthcare facility. Instead, use one of the numbers below for up-to-date advice about steps to take:
  • Campus Health Services Tygerberg Campus: 021 938 9590
  • After hours emergency number: 076 431 0305
  • National hotline: 0800 029 999

As per protocol, the National Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announces new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Neither the national nor provincial departments of health will release any information about patients, as this is against the law. Please refrain from posting information about any patient on social media.

Thank you for your cooperation, for helping us respond to the current health threat in a responsible manner and for your dedication to caring for patients and each other ethically and with compassion.


Kind regards


Prof Jimmy Volmink