Exclusive: We spoke to Durham Freps who tested Covid-positive after Freshers’ Week

One Frep told us: ‘I’ll be amazed if the whole uni don’t have it by the end of the month’


A number of Durham Freps have confirmed to The Tab Durham that they have tested positive for Covid-19 after carrying out their duties during Freshers’ Week.

A Frep, or Freshers’ Rep, is a student in second year or above who volunteers to help incoming freshers move into college and settle into their first week at university. When speaking with Freps who had either tested positive for the virus or knew others who had, many expressed concerns that the social distancing rules put in place by colleges at the start of Freshers’ Week were not always correctly followed.

‘I once went onto a corridor and there were about 30 people there’

Ben*, a Frep who attends a Hill college, told The Tab Durham that five students from his college had tested positive for the virus- the first two being diagnosed on Saturday 3rd. He received a positive test result himself two days later, on Monday. He says his current symptoms include achy bones, constant exhaustion, headaches and dizziness.

On receiving a positive coronavirus test, Ben told The Tab Durham: “Frepping just shouldn’t have happened. Officially, we were always wearing masks and were two metres apart, but in reality we just weren’t. It was never on purpose, but it just happens.” Ben also states: “I feel Frepping seeded a community wide outbreak, and I feel we caught coronavirus from the freshers.”

He added: “I wasn’t concerned about coronavirus prior to Frepping, I knew I was going to get it. The university would tell us we’d be fine, but it feels like they were sort of absolving themselves of any responsibility by telling us we should wear masks and distance. A lot of the responsibility was put onto us- as much as they said we’d be fine if we obeyed social distancing and wore masks 24/7, humans aren’t automatons, so of course that didn’t happen.”

However, when asked whether the freshers at his college had obeyed the rules, he said: “Every college was mixing. I once went into a corridor and there were about 30 people there. They dispersed when I arrived, but they’ll just congregate again when I leave.”

Ben also stated that from what he understood, freshers at his college were mixing with students at another college located adjacent to them. However, he added: “I don’t blame the freshers at all. They’re stressed and depressed and they want to meet people.”

On the college planned events, he concluded: “It’s hard because we did have Frep-organised events, which is great because it allowed the freshers to have fun, and without them, they’d probably all be dropping out. Yet equally, this made it more infectious. Student mental health vs coronavirus risk was the big trade off. I’ll be amazed if the whole uni don’t have it by the end of the month.”

‘It is impossible for Freps to enforce households, we can’t be there 24/7’

Isaac*, who was a Frep at one of Durham’s Bailey colleges this year, also recently tested positive for coronavirus. He tells us that he is one of three Freps at his college to have received a positive test result after both Prep Week and Freshers’ Week, but that only one of them was symptomatic. Isaac believes that his college had done a good job at making sure Freps felt safe and calm in their role, stating: “If any of us were made uncomfortable, we could stay home, and they provided us with two high quality face masks each for the week. There were also sanitation points all around college.”

Isaac also states that his college’s distancing procedures were fairly successful. Freps at the college worked in small groups assigned at the start of the week, and when one member of a team reported symptoms, the entire group was sent home and only returned after testing negative.

However, Isaac did tell The Tab Durham he is concerned over the mixing of households that might go on between freshers. He observed: “I would say where the university fell short was on the naivety that students would not mix households. Freps were mostly unaffected by this because we all wear masks and sanitise, but I expect in the next week or so there will be a lot of infections amongst freshers who simply mix in groups of over 50.

“It is impossible for Freps to enforce households, we can’t be there 24/7, and as soon as Freps leave, they mix anyway. Freshers are supposed to be able to communicate with their Freps and ask for help, so attempting to enforce distancing would create animosity.”

Overall though, Isaac praises the college’s protective measures for Freps, noting that as soon as there was one report of somebody having symptoms in college accommodation (on Thursday 1st October), all Freps were told not to come in. This meant that day events such as workshops and matriculation were cancelled from then onwards.

‘Freshers would constantly break the household barrier and not socially distance’

On freshers breaking the rules, Doug*, Head Frep at a third college told The Tab Durham: “Freshers would constantly break the household barrier and not socially distance. They would constantly go into each other’s blocks despite being told repeatedly not to.

“The college smoking area was a bit of a hotspot for it, and whenever Freps or welfare officers would pass by, they seemed put out that we were policing their fun, and very occasionally became abusive.

“The Senior Team said that it was not our job to militantly police this, or put ourselves into uncomfortable positions with freshers. We were also advised not to overly mingle with our freshers inside, so as to not place ourselves at risk.”

On the activities carried out by Freps during Freshers’ Week, Durham University stated: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the communities of which we are part is our top priority. We wish all members of our community who are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms a quick and full recovery.”

On accusations of poor behaviour among freshers, the university added: “The vast majority of our students have responded to the local and national Covid-19 restrictions as responsible citizens and we are proud of them for doing so.

“The reckless behaviour of a small minority of students is utterly unacceptable and is putting themselves, their peers, University staff and the wider community at greater risk. We have worked tirelessly to try to achieve a safe and successful start to the new academic year and communicated very regularly with our students about the extra responsibilities we all have during the current pandemic. That a small number of students have chosen to ignore these reminders is very disappointing.

“Compliance with Government and University guidance on Covid-19 is part of our Student Pledge, which all students agree to on joining the University. Students who fail to uphold this can expect disciplinary action to follow.”

*Names have been changed.