Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 17 November 2020
Dear Colleagues and Students,
- Case numbers are increasing in Devon and Cornwall, but those connected to the University remain low.
- We must remain vigilant throughout the current national lockdown period.
- Please ensure you are aware of the guidelines and follow them closely. This includes observing careful social distancing and wearing a face-covering on and off campus where the law requires it or when maintaining social distancing is difficult.
- Remember, if you experience COVID-19 symptoms - a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell – you must self-isolate and request a test via the Rapid Response Hub. By doing so, you are helping to stop the spread of the virus.
- Our plans for the end of term are developing and I will update you next week.
- Please remember that we have a range of wellbeing support available should you need it.
The latest official statistics for our region show that cases of COVID-19 have increased in both Devon and Cornwall. The Devon County Council (DCC) dashboard, which includes data up to 14 November, shows that there were 957 cases in the preceding week for Devon and 477 cases in the same period for Cornwall. Exeter has recorded 200 of the cases in Devon over the last week. By working with our Public Health England (PHE) colleagues we know that around 18-20% of those cases are attributable to the University. There are still very few cases linked to our Cornwall campus.
Whilst case numbers related to our campuses remain at a low level, it is clear that we must continue to work together to maintain this position. We are now in the second full week of the second national lockdown period, and our actions over the coming days and weeks, like those of everyone in England, will determine the course of the COVID-19 crisis, and affect all of us, our friends, loved ones, and those in our communities. Observing the lockdown restrictions strictly is vital to ensure that we reduce the likelihood that students will become infected around the time that they may wish to return home for Christmas.
Under the current national restrictions, education has been designated as ‘essential’ and we have been able to continue our blended model of online and COVID-secure face-to-face teaching. This week on our Penryn campus we have, at the request of a number of academic colleagues, been able to introduce some larger class sizes, with a number of sessions now including up to 40 students. Our study spaces and libraries on all campuses are being well used and I would like to thank both the staff who have made this possible and the students who have observed the guidelines to keep each other safe.
We have regrettably seen a small number of social gatherings over the last few days. These are not permitted under the current national restrictions, and they run the risk of further COVID-19 spread on our campuses. In the last week I have also had to write to a small number of residents of university accommodation to remind them of the importance of following the guidelines, after small clusters of COVID cases were found in specific blocks.
We have all worked very hard, and given up some of our normal freedoms, to get to this point, where we are able to keep our campus spaces open, and to deliver our blend of in-person and online teaching. We must all continue to do so, and following the guidelines and observing basic COVID-19 hygiene measures has never been more important. This includes observing careful social distancing and wearing a face-covering on and off campus where the law requires it or when maintaining social distancing is difficult. By doing so we can play our part in reducing COVID-19 and supporting our neighbours and local communities.
This also includes self-isolating and requesting a test via the Rapid Response Hub if you experience COVID-19 symptoms - a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell. If you share a household with someone who has tested positive, or who is self-isolating while they await test results, you must also self-isolate. This may seem an inconvenience, but following these steps is critical if we are to prevent the spread of the virus and to prevent those around us becoming ill. If your housemate requests a test, please be empathetic. They are doing the right thing and taking action to protect you and those around you.
Students who begin a period of self-isolation should complete the self-declaration form to request to move to online study, and read the Information for students who are self-isolating web page which is constantly updated with advice, guidance and links. The web page contains details of the wide range of support available to you, including for students who are self-isolating in private accommodation.
As we approach the end of Term One, for many of us our attention will begin to turn to examinations and assessments. We are committed to the academic success of our students, and this week we will be writing to all taught students to explain how we will be protecting learning and academic outcomes throughout the year, and we will also share this message with colleagues.
Finally, I wrote to you on 12 November setting out the government’s proposals for the end of term. Our plans to support those students who wish to travel home, as well as those who wish to stay on campus for the Christmas break, are progressing well, and I aim to update you in detail next week. In the meantime, from next week you should see your timetables begin to be updated to reflect the government’s request to move all teaching online by the 9 December, so that those who wish to travel home are able to do so during the 3-9 December ‘student travel window’.
Please remember to take care, and to be mindful of the health and welfare of those around you. Our wellbeing pages are frequently updated with advice and guidance for those who may need it, and have contact details should you want to reach out for support or just to speak to someone. Don’t be afraid to get in touch whenever you feel you need to.
Registrar and Secretary