CHENNAI: IIT-Madras has temporarily shut down its academic zone, including departments, labs and library, and quarantined hostelites and staff after nearly 71 people, including 66 students, tested positive for Covid-19 infection since December 1. This is the first big cluster seen by the city after campuses reopened their gates to final year students.
While two people tested positive for the viral infection on December 1, 14 more cases emerged by December 10. Since Friday, the campus, which has been declared a hotspot, has added 55 more cases to its Covid-19 tally.
IIT-M officials said there are 774 students on campus. A majority of those infected were residents of two hostels – Krishna and Jamuna. On Saturday, the management told hostelites not to step out of their rooms. One faculty residing at a guest house and four mess workers, too, have tested positive. While the health department and the IIT-M management were yet to identify the cause, students say overcrowding at the only operational mess led to the spread of the infection.
Overcrowding at mess led to spike in Covid cases, say IIT-M students
While both the health department and the IIT-M management were yet to identify the cause of infection, students say overcrowding at the only operational mess led to the spread of the infection. “Earlier, we could do with just one mess as there were fewer students on campus. But after students returned, the mess was crowded,” a research scholar said. “Mess is not a place where we wear our masks. So all of us were vulnerable. Four workers in the mess have tested positive,” she said On December 9, the management called for a fresh bunch of cooks and staff for the mess, after ensuring all of them tested negative. The following day, the dining hall was closed and food was sent to students’ rooms. Academic zones, including all departments and labs, have been closed and disinfected.
Public health department noticed the cluster when 10 students were admitted to the Institute of Ageing at the King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Guindy with severe to moderate symptoms of Covid-19. The government hospital registers showed 25 admissions from IIT-M campus since December 1. “We saw sporadic admissions, but when a group of people were admitted on Saturday, we alerted officials. Most patients are recovering well,” said a senior doctor.
Meanwhile, a circular from the IIT-M registrar directed faculty members, staff, project staff and research scholars to work from home. Students, staff and scholars staying on campus were advised to quarantine. Those with flu-like symptoms were asked to go to the campus hospital.
IIT director Bhaskar Ramamurthi said after a spurt in symptomatic cases being reported by some students residing in the hostels, IIT-M consulted civic authorities and arranged for all students residing in hostels to be tested. “To be cautious, all students have been asked to remain in their rooms and packed food is being supplied to the students in the hostels,” he said.
In a statement to the media, Ramamurthi said the institute has been functioning on limited capacity with 10% students in the hostels. Research scholars, who need to do experimental work, are on campus and project staff, who are working on research projects, visit labs for their work. Students who returned to hostels were quarantined for two weeks, he said. “Our capacity to quarantine (with room service) is limited, and this limits the rate at which we can bring back scholars to the hostels,” he said.