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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 4 December 2020

Dear Students and Colleagues,

Key Points

  • We are at the end of the first week of mass testing to support those who wish to use the ‘student travel window’, which is open until 9 December
  • Testing for students will continue until 8 December and slots can be booked via the Winter Break web pages
  • Cases on our campuses remain very low, but we must all continue to be vigilant and observe the COVID-19 safety guidance
  • Next week we will share the details of services and support available for those remaining at the University over the winter break
  • We have received government guidance on the return to University in January. This outlines a staggered return to in-person teaching and testing for students returning to campuses
  • We have outlined our initial proposals below and will update in more detail next week
  • Students in particular should pay close attention to the outline of the staggered return to in-person teaching and the plans for testing on return to campuses
  • Students travelling internationally can book a ‘test and rest’ service, combining a HALO test with an airport hotel stay
  • The Students’ Guild and Students’ Union have a range of online social activities for the rest of term and through the winter break
  • As we approach the end of term it is important that we continue to be mindful of our own wellbeing and that of those around us. Full details of the support available is available on our COVID-19 web pages

Full Message

We are now at the end of our first week of mass testing for students to support those who wish to travel away from the University for the winter break. As of this morning we have tested around 2,000 students and once again I would like to thank the colleagues who have worked so hard to support this effort, and the students who have taken part. Testing will continue until 8 December using the rapid Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests and we are increasing capacity where we can, so please keep checking back if your first choice slot was not available. Students without symptoms who wish to get a test can book a slot using the links on our Winter Break web pages.

Our HALO test service will continue until 18 December for staff or students who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and for those who need to get a test certificate for international travel.

Cases on our campuses remain very low. The Devon County Council (DCC) dashboard, which includes data up to 1 December, shows that there were 643 cases in the preceding seven days for Devon and 157 cases in the same period for Cornwall. Exeter has recorded 132 of the cases in Devon over the last week. We know from working with our Public Health England (PHE) colleagues that around 5% 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.

Travelling away from the University

The government’s student travel window opened yesterday and will last until 9 December, with the majority of our teaching moving online from the end of today. We know that many students will be travelling over the coming weekend. If you are doing so it is critical that you observe the government’s guidance for transport and travel. You should also ensure that anyone who comes to collect you from your term-time accommodation maintains social distancing and adheres to strict COVID-19 hygiene measures when they do so.

If you have tested negative for COVID-19 in preparation to travel, you should self-isolate between your test and your departure. Your test result is only valid at the moment you take the test, and you should continue to protect yourself from contracting the infection by limiting your social contacts and by washing your hands, covering your face and maintaining space from others.

Support for students remaining at University

Each year we have a number of students who remain at the University over the winter break, for a number of different reasons, and we have well-established plans to support them. Next week we will share details of what support services and facilities will be available during the vacation, and we will also share details of what students remaining at University should do if they experience new symptoms and need to get a COVID-19 test between 18 December and 4 January when our HALO testing centre will be closed.

Preparing for the start of the Spring term

On Wednesday we received the Department for Education (DfE) guidance on students returning to university campuses from January 2021. We are finalising our plans for the start of the spring term and we will keep you informed throughout next week and through the winter break, so please make sure you check your email regularly.

The government has reaffirmed the importance of in-person teaching in COVID-19-secure teaching spaces. We saw no evidence of transmission related to teaching during the autumn term and our intention is to return to our blended delivery of in-person and online teaching as soon as we are able to, while abiding by the DfE guidance.

The key points of the government’s guidance for January concern a staggered start to in-person teaching next term, and the provision of testing for students returning to campuses. We are approaching each of these as follows.

Staggered return to campus

We have been developing our plans for the phased return of students to our campuses in response to the government guidance. Our draft proposals are broadly outlined below, and we will be discussing these with trade unions, the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union over the coming days.

The examination period begins on 4 January and this year all our exams will be conducted online. Students sitting exams in January can find their exams timetable at mytimetable.exeter.ac.uk.

As planned, we will begin teaching on 11 January for all students. For most students, teaching will initially be online-only. In line with the government’s guidance, the introduction of in-person teaching will be staggered between 11 January and the week beginning 1 February. By the week beginning 1 February we will have returned to our blended model of online and in-person teaching for all students.

Students who have travelled away for the winter break are being advised by government not to return to their term-time accommodation until their in-person teaching is scheduled to resume.

  • Those courses with placement or practical elements which cannot be delivered online will resume in-person teaching first, with most resuming from the week beginning 11 January. However, students should refer to their programme for individual arrangements

  • New Postgraduate Taught students will also begin their in-person teaching from the week beginning 11 January
  • Final year undergraduate students and returning Postgraduate Taught students will resume in-person teaching in the week beginning 25 January
  • All other Undergraduate students will resume in-person teaching in the week beginning 1 February

  • Postgraduate Research students can resume their research from 4 January, and details of the facilities available during the winter break will be shared next week

Term 2 timetables will be issued next week to indicate when each student should expect their in-person teaching to begin. Please pay very close attention to your timetable before making your plans to travel, which should also take account of the guidance on testing, which is detailed below.

Please note that there are a number of circumstances under which students may need to return to campuses earlier. These include those students who do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, IT facilities, studying space, or those who need to return for health reasons.

Students who are staying on our campuses or locally over the winter break will have access to our support services, study space and campus catering. We will share details and opening times of these services next week. 

In each of these exceptional cases, students should still plan to be tested for COVID-19 when returning to our campuses.

COVID-19 testing plans for January

We will offer tests to students returning to University campuses in January and February, using the test centres we have established in the sports centres on the Streatham and Penryn campuses.

The government recommendation is that students should take two of the government-provided Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests, three days apart. If both of these tests return negative results then students can consider it safe to access shared teaching, study and social spaces. If either test returns a positive result then a HALO test will also be offered. If that is positive, students should continue to self-isolate for 10 days.

Testing is expected to be offered at the Sports Hall on the Streatham campus, and the Sports Centre in Penryn in January and we are working with the Government now to put this in place.  As soon as you arrive at your term-time accommodation we advise you to book your two tests using the online booking form.  It is essential that you allow enough time between arriving in your accommodation and starting your in-person teaching sessions or using study or social spaces on campus to get your two tests.

Students spending the winter break in Tier 3 areas in England may be able to get a test from a local NHS test site before leaving to come back to Exeter.  If this is the case then you may not need to get two tests in Exeter.

We encourage all students to get tested through these processes before coming back to attend in-person teaching sessions or to use study or social spaces on our campuses. We have worked incredibly hard together to get the spread of COVID-19 under control this term. We have protected the health and wellbeing of those around us and have prevented the transmission of COVID-19 within our teaching spaces and to those in our local communities.

As we approach the end of the autumn term, testing is enabling our students to plan for a restful winter break with loved ones, and it will be equally vital in enabling us to start the Spring term with confidence that we can avoid another outbreak and the consequences that would result.

We will make tests available for all students. When we confirm the details of our testing plan for January, please play your part by planning to get two tests before you return to in-person teaching or use study or social spaces on our campuses. This will protect you, those around you and our communities.

Other updates

‘Test and Rest’ service for students travelling internationally

Students may wish to make their own arrangements to take a COVID-19 test before travelling internationally. We have made a special arrangement with the Arora Hotel Group to offer a ‘Test and Rest’ service, which allows students to book both a HALO PCR test and a stay at a hotel overnight at a number of major UK airports. Upon arrival students can get tested and are then booked into an airport hotel to relax until they receive their test results the following day. On receipt of a negative test result, students can then proceed to take their flight. Costs and further details of this service are available in this flyer. This service may be of particular interest to anyone travelling after our own on-site testing is paused on 18 December, or for anyone who would prefer to get tested at the airport before travelling.

Students’ Guild and Students’ Union activities

As we approach the end of term without the festive parties we may have hoped for, there are lots of ways for students to stay in touch and entertained. The Students’ Union in Cornwall have a range of online events and activities running right through the festive period, including a Harry Potter Quiz and a number of other events being organised by student-led groups. The Students’ Guild will be running lots of festive events and competitions for Exeter-based students to get involved in as part of their Get Connected campaign. From the 1 December they will be releasing an event/competition every day up until Christmas Day, from a Christmas Bake Off to watching your favourite Christmas film, there will be lots of festive fun, and all for free. Stay up to date by joining the Get Connected Community Group, checking out the website and keeping an eye on the @exeterguild social media.

We know that many of our students will be leaving our campuses over the next few days. As you do so please be considerate to your neighbours and remember to continue to observe COVID-19 safety measures. Above all, continue to think of each other and remember to reach out for wellbeing support and advice whenever you may need it.

As we begin to go our separate ways for what I hope will be a restful winter break for everyone, I wanted to pay tribute to you all. The way all members of the University have pulled together this term to keep each other and our communities safe has been nothing short of inspirational. I wish safe journeys to those who are travelling and please remember to stay in touch for further updates over the coming days and weeks.

Best wishes


Mike

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary