04/01/2021

Coronavirus: Current Information

The Executive Board would like to provide you with an overview of current information on novel coronavirus, actions to take regarding the respiratory illness it causes (Covid-19), and precautions and policies in effect or which may be instituted at Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences in the future.

Operating guidelines for Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, valid until further notice (01 April 2021)

The third semester in the coronavirus pandemic has begun. The time for the redeeming steps has not yet come to return back to normalcy so that patience and caution are still required.

Nevertheless, testing and vaccines have introduced new possibilities in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 that give good reason to look to the future with renewed optimism.

Federal and state governments of Germany are working on a new, unified coronavirus strategy incorporating not only vaccines, but also new rapid tests and home tests. How/whether these new possibilities can play a pivotal role in a sound reopening strategy is a topic of heated public debate at the moment. It is also a topic of focus for the University Rectors’ and Chancellors’ Conferences as well.

Work-from-home and online teaching

The newest amendments to the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance (CoronaSchVO) dated 5 March 2021 (entry into force on 29 March 2021) have not brought about any changes for universities in North Rhine-Westphalia. All previous rules and guidelines affecting Rhine-Waal University will continue to apply under this newest version of the CoronaSchVO. The university’s Executive Board assumes at the moment, based on the CoronaSchVO and the university’s Hygiene Framework, that in-person instruction is still permissible in specific, justified cases, i.e. where absolutely essential due to the infeasibility of a virtual alternative.

All decision-makers in the faculties, administrative departments, staff units and central organisational units are called upon to ensure that their staff’s tasks and responsibilities can be performed primarily via telecommuting / from home. In turn, employees themselves are called upon to make use of telecommuting as much as possible. Please only visit campus for essential work-related purposes.

Rapid tests

University employees who, due to the nature of their work, must work on campus are eligible for rapid coronavirus tests on their campus during working hours and upon request.

This offer is intended to contribute to the ongoing fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In addition, Rhine-Waal University has decided to offer this testing option as a health service to its employees. However, testing should be considered a supplementary measure: it does not replace hygienic precautions such as safe distancing, the use of a medical-grade mask in public, regular hand washing and airing out of closed spaces. (For more information (in German) about rapid tests, please see: https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/coronatest/faq-schnelltests.html)

Mandatory mask wearing

We would like to announce that stricter guidelines based on the Hygiene Framework of Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, valid from 1 October 2020, are now in effect: masks worn on campus must now adhere to a higher safety standard, i.e. they must be medical-grade masks pursuant to the CoronaSchVO. (“Medical-grade mask” means in this context a disposable surgical mask or any masks rated FFP2 or better without an exhalation valve). In other words, the term “medical-grade mask” should now be understood for any mask or mask-wearing requirement mentioned in the Hygiene Framework. An updated Hygiene Framework can be found here.

Future outlook

We hope that infection rates will allow us to bring back more in-person teaching for all students in the winter semester while still adhering to the requirements of health authorities. With this in mind, the Executive Board is currently involved in considerable planning and coordination efforts with other NRW universities to develop and jointly implement new testing and vaccination strategies, re-opening scenarios and other measures for returning to our accustomed sense of academic normalcy.

As the University Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has put it: “Universities in Germany see testing options as a potential addition to their existing hygiene frameworks and as an opportunity to systematically return to in-person teaching starting with small, clearly defined groups of participants. However, this strategy hinges not only on falling infection rates in Germany, but also on the availability of necessary financial and logistical resources at universities for its implementation.”

Key to our success – and the success of the current lecture period despite the complicated situation we now find ourselves in – will be a targeted re-opening of specific teaching spaces both during the lecture period and the examination phase.

However, even with new strategies we cannot rule out the possibility of more drastic contact restrictions if infection rates continue to rise over the coming weeks. Worsening infection rates may even force us to return to core staffing operations as in March 2020. This move would prohibit any and all in-person teaching or on-campus events, regardless of the number of participants or whether indoors or outdoors, and force all teaching, research and other non-critical university operations to return to an online format.

The university’s Executive Board is in regular contact with decision-makers in politics and at other universities in North Rhine-Westphalia. The current discussion priorities are rapid tests and home tests, as well as the potential use of digital contact tracing. As soon as further changes become apparent, internal university agreements and decisions will be made as to how the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences should position itself.

Amended Coronavirus Protection Ordinance: Guidelines for universities remain in effect (9 March 2021)

On 9 March 2021, the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia updated the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance (German). All previously-valid guidelines for universities remain in effect. Accordingly, in-person teaching is permitted on a case-by-case basis if essential and proper hygiene precautions are ensured. In addition, teachers must use suitably large rooms and/or alternative forms of teaching (hybrid or alternating between in-person and distance learning, for example).

Planning considerations for summer semester 2021

Currently, the summer semester is set to begin on 1 March and end on 31 August. The lecture period (including the examination phase) will fall between 29 March and 23 July 2021.

At the moment, we must assume that the current pandemic conditions will largely continue through all of summer semester 2021 and that most of the populace will not have been vaccinated yet. We should not expect a loosening of restrictions at the start of the semester, so we must again prepare for a flexible online semester, with online and hybrid teaching, according to the Hygiene Framework.

While it appears that there may be more options for in-person teaching (under special circumstances, naturally) in summer semester 2021 than in winter semester 2020-2021, we should remain flexible and still expect the vast majority of teaching to occur online/digitally.

The experience of the past two semesters has allowed the faculties and teachers to continually build and improve upon their organisational and digital teaching concepts. The Executive Board hopes that these concepts will also lead to a renewed teaching-learning dialogue with students by making the course preparation process more manageable. Finally, the Executive Board would also like to encourage all students and teachers to contribute to internal dialogues on improving teaching approaches under pandemic conditions.

Operating guidelines for Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, valid until further notice (05 March 2021)

The challenges of the winter semester have greatly impacted the past weeks and the examination phases are just around the corner. At the same time, state and federal ministers have been meeting at regular intervals to coordinate new measures, enact new regulations, and integrate them into state law. Again and again, the dynamic nature of this pandemic seems to take hold of our public and private lives, forcing us to both act and react.

All decisions in this pandemic have been motivated by our responsibilities towards all students and staff. The ability for students to complete their degree and the health and safety of everyone at HSRW are two of the most valuable.

With the newly amended NRW Coronavirus Protection Ordinance, which enters into force on Friday, 05 March 2021, all rules and guidelines implemented at HSRW in past weeks remain in effect; the new Ordinance takes into account the importance of protecting health, but also the imperative need for in-person examinations and examination preparation. Of course, digital examination formats should be prioritised and efforts should ensure the ability of all students to participate.

At the moment, the Executive Board expect that in-person examinations will remain permissible on a case-by-case basis. Though this bears great responsibility and planning, efforts will be supported by both the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance and the Hygiene Framework. 

Team leaders in the faculties, administrative departments, staff units and central organisational units should continue ensuring that their team’s tasks and responsibilities are performed primarily via telecommuting / from home. In turn, employees are called upon to make use of telecommuting as much as possible. Please only visit campus for essential work-related purposes.

Operating guidelines for Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, valid until further notice (11 January 2021)

In a meeting held on 7 January 2021, the Executive Board met to discuss the current state of the pandemic. This discussion took into account the most recent decisions of the Conference of Minister Presidents, the various measures that have been implemented throughout Germany, as well as deliberations from the University Chancellors’ Conference and the Rectors’ Conference.

After carefully weighing the various interests at play as well as the steps needed to ensure both the health and safety of everyone at Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences and continued academic operations (examinations in particular), the Executive Board has decided upon the following:

  1. First, we would like to emphasise once again the importance of following the Hygiene Framework as well as all guidelines for the winter semester currently in effect.
  2. Teachers and examiners are urgently requested to offer digital examinations whenever and wherever possible.
  3. As before, examinations and teaching preparation for them may be offered in person only when absolutely necessary.
  4. Accordingly, in-person examinations scheduled by the faculties for the upcoming winter semester examination phase may continue as planned.
  5. For the exclusive purpose of ensuring proper examination preparation and in accordance with current health and legal guidelines, campus libraries will reopen on 11 January 2021. However, library services will be restricted to picking up ordered media and returning borrowed media with as little person-to-person contact as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Team leaders in the faculties, administrative departments, staff units and central organisational units should continue ensuring that their team’s tasks and responsibilities are performed primarily via telecommuting / from home. In turn, employees are called upon to make use of telecommuting as much as possible. Visits to campus should only occur for essential work-related purposes.

The points above shall remain in effect until further notice, provided no additional restrictions are enacted in the meantime by responsible government authorities (e.g. NRW Ministry of Culture and Science, NRW Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs, county health authorities in Kleve and Wesel).

Should additional restrictions be implemented in the next days and weeks which prohibit in-person examinations, the Executive Board still considers digital examinations to be the best solution. If digital examinations are infeasible in certain cases, an alternative solution may include delaying the examination phase until the start of summer semester 2021 (29 March to 11 April 2021), resulting in a correspondingly shorter lecture period (12 April to 23 July 2021). The regularly scheduled examination phase to conclude the summer semester (12 to 23 July 2021) should initially remain unaffected.

The Executive Board would also like to inform all members of our University of new restrictions upon arrival in Germany from high-risk countries:

“Mandatory tests for SARS-CoV-2 shall be required for all new arrivals to Germany originating in a high-risk country. This is in addition to the current 10-day quarantine requirement for all new arrivals, which may be shortened accordingly after a negative test administered no earlier than the fifth day of quarantine (‘two-test strategy’).

Tests administered within 48 hours of arrival or immediately upon arrival in Germany comply with this new requirement. The model ordinance for quarantine shall be revised accordingly and implemented by the federal states of Germany in their corresponding ordinances from 11 January 2021 onwards.

In addition to the mandatory testing requirement in place since August 2020, the German federal government shall implement separate testing guidelines on the basis of the 3rd Civil Protection Act for new arrivals from special, high-risk countries designated as such due to the prevalence of virus mutations or where incidence rates are particularly high. Both state and federal governments would like to expressly mention once again that all non-essential travel to high-risk countries should be avoided and that travellers arriving in Germany are subject to special notification obligations in addition to mandatory testing and quarantine requirements.” (source: Conference of Minister Presidents)

Updated operating guidelines for Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, valid from 16 December 2020 (until further notice; review planned for early January)

The ever-changing nature of the pandemic once again requires flexible and responsible action from us all. Very recently, the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance (CorSchVO) of North Rhine-Westphalia has been updated with further guidelines for the operation of universities and other education institutes. The Executive Board of Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences has conferred with the Coronavirus Task Force on these new guidelines.

As you were notified by email cosigned by the chancellor and president in early December, only teaching which is considered absolutely essential and in compliance with the Hygiene Framework is currently permitted on campus. The vast majority of teaching has been held online since the start of the semester, as was planned with the flexible online semester. This allowed Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences to remain in compliance with the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance at all times.

The updated Ordinance (valid from 16 December 2020) still contains provisions permitting teaching and examinations at universities and schools in the healthcare sector pursuant to separate agreements in accordance with Section 28 (1) of the Protection against Infection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz). However, in-person teaching is no longer permitted. In-person examinations and associated preparation are only permitted if they cannot be delayed until after 10 January 2021 for legal or factual reasons, or if a delay can be considered unreasonable or intolerable for the affected students. Practical vocational training is only permissible in accordance with applicable guidelines for the sector in which it occurs.

With these changes in mind, the Executive Board would like to once again emphasise the importance of following the Hygiene Framework as well as the guidelines established for the current winter semester. In addition, the following rules now apply as well:

  1. only absolutely essential in-person examinations and associated preparation are permitted on campus and only if they cannot be delayed until after 10 January 2021 for legal or factual reasons, or if a delay could be considered unreasonable or intolerable for the affected students;
  2. That the library shall remain closed to the public through the holidays as well as from 4-10 January 2021 (digital service will remain available, however). The library is planned to reopen to the public from 11 January 2021, particularly for exam preparation purposes, but subject to the health guidelines in place at that time.

Team leaders in the faculties, administrative departments, staff units and central organisational units are called upon to ensure that their internal tasks and responsibilities can be managed primarily through telecommuting / home office. In turn, employees are called upon to make use of telecommuting as much as possible. Visits to campus should only occur for essential work-related purposes.

These new rules shall remain in effect until further notice, but at least until 10 January 2021, and will be reviewed in early January 2021. However, due to the current trajectory of the pandemic, we must assume that they will remain in effect past this date, or require additional adjustment.

Expanded rules regarding masks

Due to rapidly increasing case numbers, the Executive Board has expanded rules regarding masks on campus in accordance with the Protection from Coronavirus Ordinance (CoronaSchVO) from 30 October 2020. From 3 November onwards, all students, staff and guests are required to wear a mask (covering both mouth and nose) at all times on campus, not just in specific situations. This requirement, valid until further notice, applies to all in-person teaching, for speakers and audiences in other on-campus events, in meetings, and in all rooms, facilities and waiting areas in front of buildings.

Exceptions to this requirement are only permissible if minimum social distancing can be assured between persons, in accordance with Section 3 (4) CoronaSchVO (applies to teaching situations) and Section 3 (2) CoronaSchVO (applies to office spaces).

Flexible online semester

That is why we have planned a “flexible online semester” for winter semester 2020-2021, one which also provides a degree of variable options to the faculties. These options range from select in-person activities on campus, to hybrid teaching, to remote teaching and learning. Current hygiene guidelines permit in-person activities on campus in certain cases, for example for practicals, examinations or voluntary curricular offers. You have planned the winter semester with great care and not lost sight of the fact that in-person teaching should remain an exception for times when it is absolutely essential.

The rest of the Hygiene Framework continues to apply. With regard to the possible pandemic scenarios illustrated there, I would like to stress that these also consider the possibility of additional restrictions from health authorities. These scenarios are meant to give insight into what might await us in the future. However, the implementation of new, stricter restrictions at HSRW will not occur until official instructions have come down through health authorities / the responsible government ministries. Only when we have received official instructions, will we react (as was the case in March of this year). The purpose of the Hygiene Framework was to be prepared as best we could should lockdowns return.

Updated Hygiene Framework for Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences

A return to normal operations in winter semester is highly unlikely. The amount and type of in-person teaching arrangements varies greatly at universities throughout Germany, as they depend largely on the composition of students and different resources required, in particular facility capacities and available support personnel.

Planning for and implementation of the winter semester 2020-2021 must take into account the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and make full use of the many insights and experiences we have gathered thus far. As a whole, the winter semester must be implemented without large groups of people on campus in order to ensure proper social distancing and adherence to hygienic guidelines.

The updated Hygiene Framework contains both mandatory guidelines and helpful recommendations offering the best possible protection to prevent or slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 at Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences. They describe the necessary precautions which must be taken in a pandemic to ensure the health and safety of all members of our University.

Hygiene guidelines 

On 3 June 2020 the Executive Board enacted new hygiene guidelines (currently only in German) to facilitate the return to partial on-campus presence for students and staff in certain necessary cases. These guidelines describe all hygienic precautions which must be taken in order to ensure the health and safety of all members of our University. They are intended to complement, not replace, legislation and other legal guidelines currently in force in Germany. Plans for returning to partial on-campus presence must be developed internally in the faculties, central facilities, administration and other departments at the University and submitted to the Executive Board for final approval. This is to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of the health authorities.

Before you begin planning, please consider the following:

  • The semester is to be conducted as successfully as possible.
  • Online forms of instruction and assessment have priority.
  •  Practical requirements for courses should be scheduled for the end of the summer semester 2020 lecture period or as far into the subsequent lecture-free period as possible.

Plans must be both reasonable and feasible to carry out. Moreover, the actual necessity of on-campus presence should be critically examined in each instance.

Together we are responsible for ensuring that these new guidelines are upheld. Our shared goal is to navigate the ongoing crisis safely and successfully.

Regulations to offset the negative academic effects of the coronavirus epidemic

Recently, the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia enacted new legislation giving universities more flexibility to address the negative effects of the coronavirus crisis. In the days since, the Executive Board has developed new regulations specifically for Rhine-Waal University based on this legislative framework. The resulting document, entitled “Regulations to offset academic adversities caused by the coronavirus epidemic (SARS-CoV-2)”, was developed together with the University’s working group for digital education and, over numerous sessions, with the Faculty Conference as representative body of the faculties. This document combines the wide-ranging provisions enacted by the government with specific policies for our institution to ensure room for flexible decision-making.

This strategy is intended to not only safeguard the digital courses and concepts which have already begun, but also to give decision makers the flexibility to react to changing circumstances without the need for additional amendments. This flexibility was enacted on Friday, 8 May 2020 via publication in the Official Notices and entered into force the next day. The decision if and when to initiate these flexible policies rests solely with the Executive Board.

As the digital summer semester 2020 is already underway, the passages in these regulations put added emphasis on distance learning. This was also done to encourage continued motivation and respect for these ongoing efforts for the duration of the pandemic. Despite its digital focus, these regulations were formulated in such a way the University can shift to forms of instruction as the situation allows and provide the faculties with more room for their own decision-making processes. Final authority for the decision to return to on-campus instruction rests with the Executive Board, which is endowed by the constitution with the fundamental responsibility of ensuring academic operations – and thus that the teaching and examination obligations of our institution are fulfilled – in normal times and in times of crisis.

Core staffing measures

Emergency measures were implemented at Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences early into the coronavirus outbreak in Germany in order to protect the health and safety students and staff. For staff, this also meant a shift to a flexible range of telework options. This decision was made by the Executive Board on 17 March 2020 and was valid through 19 April 2020.

From 20 April onwards Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences will begin a careful shift from emergency staffing measures to core staffing measures. However, on-campus presence should still be kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, we must begin to enable greater access to office spaces, laboratories and university equipment in order to implement new distance learning concepts, for research and in order to ensure a successful semester. All university-related events and gatherings of people, whether external or internal, indoors or outdoors and regardless of the number of participants, remain cancelled until further notice. Recommended hygiene precautions should continue to be followed as well.

“We want to continue making sound contributions to the fight against the coronavirus, and moving from emergency staffing to core staffing is a part of this ongoing effort. The decision is in line with government plans for gradually loosening restrictions and positions our operations in the right place for the coming weeks. We would like to give special thanks to all members of Rhine-Waal University who have contributed and shaped the past weeks and all those who will help shape the weeks to come so that we as a university can continue operating and develop new forms of teaching and learning,” stressed Dr Oliver Locker-Grütjen, President.

The FAQ you can find here.

Task force Corona

The Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences has set up an internal task force for coronavirus to observe the situation and react quickly to any new developments. This task force will meet several times a week in order to quickly react to any new developments to the coronavirus situation. It will also be in contact with experts from the faculties, central facilities for advice as needed and the public health services. There is also a close coordination with other Universities of North Rhine-Westphalia.

As part of ongoing efforts to stop the continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the NRW Ministry of Science and Education decided yesterday to delay the start of the summer semester lecture period until 20 April 2020.

Summer Semester

As part of ongoing efforts to stop the continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the NRW Ministry of Science and Education decided yesterday to delay the start of the summer semester lecture period until 20 April 2020.

The Executive Board of Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences welcomes this decision and will begin planning for the new semester together with the faculties and central staff units over the coming days and weeks. An immediate consequence of this decision is that all courses scheduled for before the lecture period (workshops or block seminars, for example) must be cancelled. More information on the possible effects of this decision on examinations, internships, semesters abroad etc. will follow as soon as possible.

Hygiene

The first step taken by this task force was to increase awareness of effective personal hygiene to reduce the spread of viruses. This lead to the posting of info signs and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the university.

At the same time, the University of Applied Sciences strongly recommend that you practice these simple hygiene precautions, which can help prevent the spread of viruses to yourself and others:

  • Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, ears, nose and mouth
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow, never your hands
  • Avoid shaking hands
  • Keep a distance of approx. 1 m from others
  • If you are feeling ill, do not leave your home and avoid contact with others, including family and flatmates. Avoid eating with others in your household and keep to separate rooms as much as possible. Ventilate rooms thoroughly and often by fully opening your windows for a period of time.

Recommendations

The Executive Board of the The Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences recommends to all members of the university that they closely follow the current information, travel and safety advice and monitor the situation.

  • The Federal Foreign Office provides travel and safety advice (German only).
  • The Federal Ministry of Health provides information (in German only).
  • The Robert Koch Institute provides current information (in German only) and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
  • The Federal Centre for Health Education provides answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the novel Coronavirus.
  • Current information about the coronavirus can be found on the site of the Kreis Kleve (you can find it here) and in the current press release. (in German only)
  • Current information about Kreis Wesel can be found here. (in German only)
  • Current information about Stadt Kleve can be found here. (in German only)
  • Current information about Stadt Kamp-Lintfort can be found here. (in German only)

Further information from the Federal Ministry of Health and the Robert Koch Institute can be found in the download area.

Special information offer by the library 

A comprehensive overview of current corona research can be found on the pages of the library

General information       

The university continues to refer to the recommendations and assessments of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the health ministries regarding the handling of the coronavirus: https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Risikogebie...

  • Asymptomatic persons who have not been in a high-risk area in Germany or abroad (as defined by the RKI) within the past 14 days nor in contact with a person confirmed to have covid-19 are considered healthy and not at risk.
  • Symptomless persons who were recently in a high-risk area in Germany or abroad (RKI) and/or in contact with a person confirmed to have covid-19 should contact their local public health services and, as a precaution, remain home to limit contact with other persons for a period of 14 days (from the date of arrival in Germany or date of contact with the infected persons).

Public health services for Kleve county can be reached at 02821-85-311, Mondays to Fridays, from 8:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. (see also: https://www.kreis-kleve.de/de/fachbereich5/corona-virus/).

Public health services for Wesel county / Kamp-Lintfort can be reached at 0281-207-0 (see also: https://www.kreis-wesel.de/de/dienstleistungen/infektionskrankheiten-meldung-information-und-beratung/)

  • Any person who is currently exhibiting flu-like symptoms or has been in close proximity with any infected persons should remain at home and contact their doctor. Please call your doctor’s office and speak to staff first—do not simply visit during consultation hours.

Finally, a word regarding “fake news”: rumours and speculation surrounding coronavirus are quick to spread. Please approach everything you see or hear with a level head and a critical eye. Get your information from the experts directly, for example the World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. Do not treat any people or groups with suspicion. There is no cause for special safety precautions when speaking with people from affected areas, nor to make any demands of them. Current risk assessments of German health agencies are clear that there is no need for panic or unconventional measures among the public.

Further information are regularly published on the university's homepage.