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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 1 December 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

Key points

  • Two new testing centres are open on our Streatham and Penryn campuses, providing testing for students who wish to travel away from the University for the winter break
  • Appointments are now available to be booked
  • Additional testing for staff and postgraduate researchers will be available after 8 December
  • COVID-19 cases at the University remain low
  • From 2 December, new regional restrictions come into force in Devon (Tier 2) and Cornwall (Tier 1). Some additional services will then be available on our campuses
  • The ‘student travel window’ is open from 3 – 9 December. Those students wishing to travel must aim to do so within this period
  • We await further government guidance on the return to universities in January
  • Support is accessible for those experiencing unexpected financial challenges and our wellbeing and support services remain available to all

Full message

This week we opened two new testing centres to provide testing for students who wish to travel away from the University for the winter break, as part of the government’s plan for the end of term. These testing centres are open now and testing is available to any student who does not currently have COVID-19 symptoms. A huge thank you to everyone who has made this possible.

As I write, more than 4000 students have booked appointments at our centre on the Streatham Campus, Exeter and more than 1500 students from Exeter and Falmouth University have booked at our Penryn Campus centre. Some days have proved especially popular and we have further increased our testing capacity as a result. Please do check back if you were unable to find a slot on your preferred date.  

In particular I want to thank those students who have come forward to be tested. Although the test is not mandatory, it is only by identifying and isolating positive COVID-19 cases that we can safeguard the health and wellbeing of our friends, loved ones and those around us. It is possible that through this testing we will find a number of students who have contracted COVID-19 without symptoms, and by supporting them to self-isolate and follow the guidelines, we can all play our part in protecting our communities.

Booking a test appointment

Appointments for tests for students who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are now available to be booked.

You do not need to take a test in order to travel away from the University for the winter break. However, testing negative for COVID-19 means you can travel to be with loved ones with a reduced risk of passing COVID-19 to them. Those with particular concerns will be supported to take two tests, three days apart, if they wish to.

Any result will only give you an indication of your COVID-19 status at the moment you take the test. It is extremely important to continue to follow existing guidelines on hygiene and social distancing both before and after getting tested to avoid infection.Continue to follow the public health guidance on washing hands, wearing a face mask and keeping space between you and other people.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be unable to travel and you will be required immediately to self-isolate for 10 days in your term-time accommodation. Your close contacts or members of your household will also have to self-isolate and may not travel until they get a negative test, or complete a full period of self-isolation.

Visit our winter break website for full details and frequently asked questions.

Please remember that if at any time you experience even mild COVID-19 symptoms - a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell – you should immediately self-isolate and arrange a HALO test via the Rapid Response Hub.

Staff testing

The student testing programme is underway between 30 November and 8 December, after which we will offer additional testing for colleagues using the University’s own HALO testing facility. Postgraduate research students can get a test at the new testing centres for students not experiencing symptoms, and will also be eligible for HALO testing after 8 December.

Because testing capacity is restricted, our priority for staff testing will be those travelling to a country or on a mode of transport where a certificate of a negative test is a requirement.

We will share full details with colleagues shortly. In the meantime those with an urgent need to travel, and staff members with symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, can book a test at any time by contacting the Rapid Response Hub

COVID-19 case numbers

The number of cases at the University remains very low at this point. The Devon County Council (DCC) dashboard, which includes data up to 28 November, shows that there were 695 cases in the preceding seven days for Devon and 230 cases in the same period for Cornwall. Exeter has recorded 136 of the cases in Devon over the last week. We know from working with our Public Health England (PHE) colleagues that around 10% of those cases are attributable to the University. There remain very few cases linked to our Cornwall campus.

Our daily update of new positive cases in the University community can be found on our COVID-19 statistics webpage. This should be viewed alongside the official published data.

Regional restrictions begin on 2 December

Tomorrow, Wednesday 2 December, England’s second period of national lockdown will end and we will enter into a tiered system of regional restrictions. Devon will be in Tier 2 (High) and Cornwall will be in Tier 1 (Medium). A summary of the restrictions under the various Tiers can be found on the government website. Please familiarise yourself with these and ensure that you are also aware of the restrictions in any area you are travelling to.

It is absolutely critical that we do not let our guard down as the national lockdown ends, including those of us who are leaving the University during the student travel window to join a new support bubble. The number of COVID-19 cases remains higher now than during the Spring and Summer and the risk that more people will suffer and our NHS will come under significant pressure is very real, especially as many of us prepare to return to other parts of the country or the world. We all have a responsibility to play our part and to closely observe the new guidelines.

Some of the important points for University staff and students are listed below.

In Devon (Tier 2 – areas with a higher or rapidly rising level of infections), from 2 December government has stipulated:

  • you must not socialise with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • you must not socialise in a group of more than 6 people outside, including in a garden or a public space – this is called the ‘rule of 6’. Larger households are able to gather within their bubbles
  • businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a COVID-Secure manner, other than those which remain closed by law, such as nightclubs
  • significant restrictions apply to pubs, bars and hospitality venues
  • organised outdoor sport, and physical activity and exercise classes can continue
  • you can continue to travel to venues or amenities which are open, but should reduce the number of journeys you make where possible

If you live in a tier 2 area, you must continue to follow tier 2 rules when you travel to a tier 1 area. This would include Cornwall. You must avoid travel to, or overnight stays in, tier 3 areas other than where necessary, such as to return home during the student travel window, for work, education, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities. You can travel through a tier 3 area as part of a longer journey.

In Cornwall (Tier 1 – medium alert), from 2 December government has stipulated:

  • you must not socialise in groups larger than 6 people, indoors or outdoors, other than where a legal exemption applies.  This is called the ‘rule of 6’. Individual households or support bubbles of more than 6 will still be able to gather together.
  • businesses and venues can remain open, in a COVID secure manner, other than those which remain closed by law, such as nightclubs
  • restrictions apply to pubs, bars and hospitality venues
  • organised outdoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue
  • organised indoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue to take place, if the rule of 6 is followed.

If you live in a tier 1 area (e.g. Cornwall) and travel to an area in a higher tier (e.g. Devon) you should follow the rules for that area while you are there. Avoid travel to or overnight stays in tier 3 areas other than where necessary, such as to return home during the student travel window, for work, education, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities. You can travel through a tier 3 area as part of a longer journey

For international travel you should check the government’s travel advice for your destination and the travel corridors list.

Changes on our campuses

Following the introduction of regional restrictions, the following changes will be introduced on our campuses:

In Cornwall (Tier 1)

  • Eat-in service will resume in The Stannary and Koofi
  • Outdoor sports activities will resume on the MUGA
  • The Gym will reopen on 9 December, with booking required

In Exeter (Tier 2)

  • Gyms and fitness classes will resume
  • Lane swimming will be available at St Luke’s
  • The Ram Bar will reopen, serving food

In accordance with government restrictions, student sports clubs are unable to restart activity at this time.

With the exception of teaching spaces, Tier 2 restrictions stipulate that you must not socialise with anyone you do not live with (or who is not in your support bubble) in any indoor setting. Unfortunately this means we need to limit capacity to one person per table in the marquees used as study space at our Exeter campuses.

We have a number of bookable study spaces, and drop-in study spaces are available across campus. Following the move to online teaching only after 4 December, our study space marquees will close after that date until Term Two.

Travelling away from the University

Government has made special provision to allow students to travel away from universities in the 3-9 December travel window. Those wishing to travel should aim to do so within this period.

We know that many students will be planning to travel by car. Those doing so should pay careful attention to the ‘Safer travel guidance for passengers’ for those using private cars. This includes guidance on what to do if you need to stop to break your journey.

If you are planning to leave your university accommodation during the government travel window and are concerned that this might impact on a forthcoming assessment, please contact your Hub/Info point in advance to discuss your options.

Returning to University in January

Exams will be online this January and teaching will start at the beginning of term. It is our intention to resume our blended model of teaching, including the offer of both online and in-person sessions, from the beginning of the next term. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that we await guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) regarding government plans, including the timing for students being permitted to return to universities after the winter break. We will keep you updated.

We anticipate that on-site research activity will continue and that research staff and postgraduate research students will therefore continue to be able to access our research facilities, study spaces and offices in January. Again DfE guidance may outline specific constraints and we will update you when we know more.

Financial and welfare support

Finally I would like to remind students that the ‘Success for All Fund’ is open for those who are experiencing unexpected financial challenges. The fund is supported by the generosity of Exeter alumni and is another of the many ways in which the Exeter community continues to join together to support each other through difficult times. Applications to be processed before the winter break period must be submitted by 4 December.

Please take care, and remember to reach out for wellbeing or other support whenever you feel you may need it.

Best wishes

Mike

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary