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COVID-19 update for staff 4 January 2022

Dear Colleagues,

Key points 

  • Happy New Year and welcome back
  • There have been some changes in the government guidance for England, including for universities, but these do not change our policies on face coverings and testing
  • Our Spring Term and examination period will go ahead as planned
  • Colleagues should continue to work from home where possible
  • Testing is vitally important. Please ensure you take an LFD test before you travel back to the University, and continue to test regularly when you are coming onto campus
  • Face coverings must be worn in all shared indoor spaces, including teaching and exam settings, unless you are exempt
  • We must all continue to do whatever we can to protect those around us and to ensure a safe return to university life
  • We know that this can be a difficult time of year and, with the added concerns around COVID-19, it is important that we all take steps to support our wellbeing

 

I hope you have enjoyed a restful break and are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead.

We have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely over the break and whilst there have been some changes in the Government guidance for universities these do not impact our policies on the need to wear face coverings and to engage in regular testing.

However, we know that the UK is currently experiencing its highest COVID case numbers since the pandemic began due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. Whilst hospitalisations have not risen as quickly, they are still high. We must all continue to do whatever we can to follow the current guidance, to protect those around us and to ensure we can have a safe return to the University for the start of our second term.

Due to the high case numbers across the UK over the Christmas and New Year period, we may experience a higher number of absences than normal for the start of term, due to colleagues self-isolating. I know that you will all show respect and compassion for fellow colleagues if some services are impacted, and we will keep you up to date if any key services are badly affected.

 

Working from home

Government advice remains that people should work from home where possible, with the delivery of teaching, research and the support of students exempt from this requirement.

Our research and student-facing activities will continue as planned, including in-person teaching and other essential services, and those who are involved in supporting these activities, or those staff who cannot do their work from home, should continue to work on campus as normal.

If you have any concerns about working from home, or you are unsure whether you are required to continue working on campus, please discuss this with your line manager as soon as possible.

Anyone working on our campuses must abide by the guidance on face-coverings, and regularly take LFD tests, including before coming to campus.

 

Returning to campus

Based on current guidance, our Spring Term will go ahead as planned, including the examinations period.

Testing is critical to this. We know that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the UK during the winter break, and it is therefore important that we do what we can to avoid bringing infection with us when we come back to the University. 

Please ensure you take an LFD test before you travel back to the University. If your LFD test is positive then you must self-isolate straight away, report your result, and get a confirmatory PCR test and, if this confirms a case of COVID-19, follow the legal requirement to continue to self-isolate.

If you are required to self-isolate, then please complete the

If your period of self-isolation is likely to affect your ability to work then please discuss with your line manager.

Following changes to the testing guidance, we know that in some areas there are shortages of LFD tests. If you are absolutely unable to obtain a test before you return to University then we have test kits available on our campuses. You can find details here. If you are returning to University without having a negative COVID-19 test then you must take a test immediately on your arrival, and minimise your interaction with others until you have a negative test result.

We are working to reopen our Assisted Testing Sites (ATS) in Exeter (Streatham Car Park B and St Luke’s Baring Court) and they will be available to those who need them throughout January. Further updates on opening dates and times will be shared shortly. We continue to monitor the situation in Cornwall with our public health partners and will seek to establish further Assisted Testing Sites as and when they are needed.

Please make sure you test before you return to work on campus, or, if you absolutely can’t access a test at home, immediately on your arrival, to protect our community. You should continue to test regularly when you are coming onto campus.

 

Face coverings

The latest Higher Education COVID-19 guidance from government confirms that face coverings should be worn in teaching settings, for example in workshops, laboratories, offices, libraries, teaching rooms and exam and lecture halls, unless you are exempt.

Our rules regarding the wearing of face coverings remain the same. Unless exempt, all staff and students must wear face coverings when in shared spaces inside all buildings, including all teaching rooms, laboratories, meeting rooms, shared offices and communal areas. It is mandatory to wear a face covering in all shops on or off our campuses and face coverings are also mandatory on public transport, including University minibuses.  

If colleagues who are teaching consider that their face covering needs to be removed in order to aid communication in the room (e.g. for lip readers) or for clarity of recording, then the mask can be removed so long as the colleague is in the 2m teaching zone around the lectern. 

Teaching colleagues can ask students to wear a face covering. If a student does not have one, they can be directed to the nearest pick-up point for a complementary face covering.  

Shared offices
Occupants of shared office spaces are expected to wear face-coverings, unless a safe distance from other occupants. Ventilation and cleaning practices must be maintained at all times and a face-covering should be worn if moving around the office where a safe distance cannot be maintained.

 

COVID-19 symptoms

We are all aware of the main symptoms of COVID-19 which include a high temperature, new continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell. Reports have also suggested that symptoms of the new Omicron variant may include those more regularly associated with colds and flu, such as a scratchy throat, lower back pain, runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, night sweats and other body aches.

Regular testing remains the most effective way of identifying cases regardless of the symptoms, and testing before you come to campus or meet people outside the home helps to protect those around us from infection.

 

Your wellbeing

I hope you are feeling rested and recharged after the winter break, but we recognise that this can be a very difficult time of year for many of us, and the concerns over COVID-19 can only add to this. Please continue to reach out for wellbeing support if and when you need it.