Message from the Rector on the new measures to help manage the health crisis

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Institutional Communication Service

15 October 2020

The COVID-19 protection provisions have been updated. As of Thursday, October 15, on the USI Lugano and Mendrisio campuses it is mandatory to wear protective masks in all common indoor areas and in all circumstances. In the other areas or spaces, wearing a sanitary mask remains mandatory if the minimum distance of 1.5 m between people cannot be guaranteed. Full details about the measures are included in the message sent by the Rector of USI to the academic community.

 

Dear members of the academic community, 

Unfortunately, the SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot be completely eliminated. As a matter of fact, contagions are again on the rise and we are registering cases of people close to us. Fortunately, many who test positive do not show symptoms, and quarantines are essentially preventive and ordered to help limit the spread of the virus. Despite this, concern is growing and we need to take this into account. 

What is the right thing to do for the University in this context? Generally speaking, I believe in an approach that is vigilant and adopted progressively, to support the efforts of the cantonal and federal authorities. In other words, we must encourage behaviours that respect the official protection provisions, adapting them to our specificities, so that we can continue to carry out our mission. 

Over the past few days, we have observed various behaviours. 

On the one hand, despite the many reminders, the rules of distancing and protection that we have issued are often not respected. This creates tension, discomfort and insecurity, affecting therefore a healthy study and work environment. 

On the other hand, there are members of the community who decide to be tested, even if they do not show symptoms. If they test positive, they follow the procedure and report it to the Office of the Cantonal Doctor, who orders preventive quarantine based on the information regarding the contacts collected. This behaviour has, for example, led to the closure of an atelier at the Academy of Architecture, in Mendrisio, which shall now continue in online mode. 

We must neither take the situation too lightly, nor panic. 

On Monday, October 12, the Rectorate, with the support of the USI Management Committee, has decided to extend the obligation to wear sanitary masks in the common indoor areas of the campuses, starting Thursday, October 15 (see below). We hope that this will contribute to bring greater clarity and confidence. 

The issue of wearing sanitary masks is one of the hottest debates since the beginning of the health crisis, but I think it is worth widening the scope of the discussion somewhat further. I would therefore like to give you some background information based on a recent communication received from the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, so that everyone can participate in the collective effort with comprehensive knowledge of the facts. 

Let's start by reviewing together what the challenge is. The goal is to control the spread of the virus until enough people are immunised. There are good reasons to believe that a medical treatment will be available in a few months; until then we need to proceed with behavioural control measures that are sustainable in the long term, so as to maintain a low number of cases of infection. It is estimated that, without protective measures, 10 people infected with COVID-19 will infect other 25 individuals. Since the beginning of June, after the lockdown phase, with the measures in place, 14 of these 25 infections have been avoided. However, the goal is to have a maximum of 10 people infected and not 11, otherwise the number of infections will double every three weeks or so. The goal of the effort to be made is therefore well defined and within reach. 

In Ticino, all confirmed cases of infection generate up to 400 quarantines ordered by the Office of the Cantonal Doctor, per day. The Office proceeds on an individual level and performs a considerable amount of work; it does not act by excessive approximations and tries to avoid the quarantine of large groups. Individually and collectively, we must support these efforts. 

All things considered, to date the situation at USI is not yet problematic. However, the measures introduced on campuses will be ineffective if associated with irresponsible behaviours off campus. I therefore invite you to remain always vigilant, avoiding taking unnecessary risks, and do not hesitate to write to safety@usi.ch to report that you have been tested positive or if you are in quarantine, even if the authorities are already aware of your situation. 

Trusting in your cooperation, I send you my best regards.  

Boas EREZ
Rector

 

Note: The decision regarding the obligation to wear sanitary masks in indoor common areas means that, starting Thursday, October 15, we will be required to wear a protective mask when passing through hallways, in study areas and lavatories, and on our way to classrooms (or offices) and when leaving classrooms. In spaces with specific functions such as cafeterias or libraries, specific rules will be indicated on site. In the outdoor common areas, the recommendation to keep the minimum safety distance between people of 1.5 m and to avoid gatherings remains valid.

 

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