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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 20 November 2020

Dear Students and Colleagues,

Key Points

  • COVID-19 case numbers connected to the University remain low
  • We are putting plans in place for the end of term, to ensure that those who wish to travel away from the University will be able to
  • From 30 November we will be opening additional testing sites so that any undergraduate, postgraduate taught or postgraduate research student who wants a test before they travel can get one
  • We encourage all students to take a test before travelling to avoid spreading COVID-19 to those they are spending the winter break with
  • Government guidance is that students wishing to travel are strongly advised to do so between 3 December and 9 December
  • We will move all but essential teaching online after Friday 4 December
  • Further guidance will follow next week
  • Our wellbeing support is there for you should you need it, and the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union have programmes of connectedness and activities that students can join in with

Full message

We are now more than half way through the current period of national lockdown and I want to thank you for your hard work in keeping to the guidance and helping to keep yourselves, those around you and our local communities safe.

Following the announcement of the national arrangements for student movement and the end of term, we have been working with government and local partners to put plans in place to ensure that those who wish to travel away from the University for the winter break will be able to do so, and that those who wish to stay in their term-time accommodation will be supported.

The national guidance continues to be updated and we are developing our support to respond to this. Today I want to let you know about the key points of our plan.

  • From 30 November we will be opening additional testing sites on our Streatham and Penryn campuses.
  • Any student who wants a test will be able to get one, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms. The main dates for mass testing are 30 November to 6 December.
  • More details on testing support available for staff during December will be provided in the my next bulletin on Tuesday
  • We encourage all students to take a test. This is the only way you can get information about your COVID-19 status and it is an important way to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 to those you are spending your winter break with, and who may be at greater risk from infection than you.
  • The testing process will be simple. You will be able to use a test booking process via the Rapid Response Hub. Testing will take place on our Streatham and Penryn campuses and you should have the results within 24 hours. Those who have particular concerns and want additional reassurance should take two tests, three days apart.
  • To enable students to travel home, the government has opened a ‘student travel window’ from 3 December to 9 December.
  • We will be moving all but essential teaching online after Friday 4 December. Timetables will be updated to reflect this.
  • If your test result is negative and you wish to travel, you should aim to leave your term-time accommodation within 24 hours after your test, within this travel window.
  • If your test result is positive, you will be unable to travel and will be required to self-isolate for 10-days. 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 period of self-isolation. We will support you throughout this period, after which you will be able to travel if you wish to.
  • Each year a number of students stay on campus or in their term-time accommodation for the winter break. We will continue to support those who are with us this year.

We have created a survey for students, which I would ask you to please complete. The link will also be shared on social media and ‘University Updates’ next week.

The survey asks if you are planning to travel after the current national lockdown lifts, either within the UK or overseas, or whether you are planning to stay in your term-time accommodation over the winter break. If you are planning to travel, it asks when that might be and what form of transport you plan to use. This is designed to help you by informing our planning, making sure we have good information for our discussions with local partners and transport companies, and ensuring we can plan the right support for those who are planning to stay with us over the break.

Details of the government’s guidance and requirements are still being finalised and we will keep you updated throughout. In the meantime, many of you have come forward with questions about the end of term. Everyone’s circumstance is different and we will have full FAQs on the Coronavirus web pages next week which we hope will address all your concerns. In the meantime I want to answer a few of the most common questions here.

Do I have to take a test to be able to travel?

It is not mandatory to take a test, but we encourage you to do so, as does the government. Knowing your COVID-19 status is important so that you can travel to be with loved ones with a reduced risk of potentially passing COVID-19 to them. Whilst the virus often, but not always, has mild effects on younger people, this is not the case for older people and those with underlying health conditions, where the impact can be life-threatening. The test involves a simple mouth swab and gives results within 24 hours.

For those with particular concerns, or who are planning to spend the winter break with people who are clinically vulnerable, it is best clinical practice to book two tests three days apart and we will support you to do so. 

When can I book an appointment for a test?

The main dates for testing for those without COVID-19 symptoms are 30 November to 6 December. A special booking system will enable you to book a test in advance by contacting the Rapid Response Hub. We will share details of the booking process next week.

If you experience even mild symptoms of COVID-19 - a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell – you should self-isolate and immediately request a test via the Rapid Response Hub. 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.

Do I have to take a test if I have previously had COVID-19?

You can take a test if you have previously tested positive for COVID-19. You may have developed some immunity to the virus but it is currently unclear how long this would last. The only way to get information about your COVID-19 status at any time is to take a test. However, there is a possibility that the test may detect remnants from your previous infection even if you no longer have COVID-19. Despite this, if you receive a new positive test result, you must still self-isolate for 10 days and your close contacts will also have to self-isolate. 

Do I have to travel within the 3-9 December travel window?

We strongly advise you to make arrangements to travel between these dates as the government has requested. This ‘student travel window’ has been created by government to allow students to travel soon after the national lockdown ends when the risk of transmission should be at its lowest. Once the travel window period ends, it is possible that we will see the introduction of significant additional national or local restrictions which could directly impact your ability to travel to and from affected regions, or to use public transport. Additionally, were you to contract COVID-19 after 9 December you would be legally required to self-isolate and this may prevent you from travelling before 25 December.

When will my last face-to-face teaching session be?

To ensure that you can travel within the ‘student travel window’ as described above, teaching will move fully online after Friday 4 December until the end of term, with the exception of teaching activities requiring specialist spaces or facilities, or clinical placements, where online provision is not possible. Timetables will be updated next week to reflect this. There will be no change to the way in which postgraduate research students are currently engaging with their studies. They will continue to be able to access on-campus research facilities, offices and study spaces.

What are my travel options?

You can travel home in whichever way is most convenient, so long as you observe the relevant COVID-19 secure guidelines. We have been working with rail and coach companies to ensure that they have prominent links to bookings in the ‘student travel window’ and we know that the government has been working to ensure that there is sufficient, affordable capacity within the public transport network. 

You may have someone who can come and collect you from your term-time accommodation. This is fine, but please make sure they understand our COVID-19 secure requirements and ask them to wear a face-covering, use hand sanitizer before entering and leaving buildings, and maintain social distancing at all times when they come to campus.

Please remember that if you are facing financial hardship or experiencing unexpected challenges, you may be able to apply to the Success for All Fund for support.

Can I travel overseas?

Students who normally live overseas can travel at any point, but should be aware of restrictions which relate to their destination. We advise you to check the government Travel advice: coronavirus (COVID-19)’ guidance and also the guidance on Entering the UK’ to ensure you are able to plan your return. Please also consider the restrictions on entry to the country in question. You may need to undertake a period of self-isolation in that country, or when you return.

You should not travel if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are in a household with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. We encourage students to get tested for COVID-19 before travelling overseas. Some countries may require you to have obtained a negative COVID-19 test before you enter the country. Please note that the Lateral Flow Devices provided by the government for the end of term testing programme cannot be used as clearance for international travel. The University will provide a HALO test for any students wishing to travel overseas. These are fully recognised for purposes of international travel. Please make sure you contact the Rapid Response Hub directly to book a HALO test.

What are the arrangements for students returning to University after the winter break?

We await further guidance from government on the January return, and we will update you on our plans as soon as we are able to. It will be important to check your University email account regularly during the break so we can ensure you are fully informed.

How will you keep me updated?

We will keep you updated via email, so please remember to check your university account regularly, and our COVID-19 website will carry the latest information and FAQs.

Other updates

Instances of COVID-19 at the University remain relatively low, whilst across Devon and Cornwall cases have continued to rise. The Devon County Council (DCC) dashboard, which includes data up to 17 November, shows that there were 991 cases in the preceding week for Devon and 516 cases in the same period for Cornwall. Exeter has recorded 223 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.

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.

We must continue our work together to keep the number of COVID-19 cases down. It is clear that the broader picture, in our region and nationally, is one of increasing case numbers. The current national lockdown period is designed to reverse this, but it will be our individual and collective actions that determine the course of this crisis. If we are to safeguard those around us, and open up the possibility of a winter break with those close to us, then we must observe the restrictions strictly.

Remember to:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
  • Wear a face-covering on and off campus when required and where social distancing is not possible
  • Give those around you space

If you experience even mild COVID-19 symptoms, request a test from the Rapid Response Hub, and self-isolate.

Finally, we must continue to support ourselves and each other. I have been sharing links to our wellbeing resources each week and I hope you have been able to familiarise yourself with these, to consider whether they may be of benefit to you now, or to think about when you may need them.

Today I want to share my admiration and support for the work that the Students’ Guild in Exeter and the Students’ Union in Cornwall have been doing to support students throughout this term. The Students’ Guild’s ‘Get Connected’ and the Students’ Union’s ‘Together Wherever’ campaigns have been bringing students together in new and meaningful ways, and delivering much needed boosts of positivity. The feedback from students has been fantastic.

Cornwall students can stay Together Wherever by checking out the campaign pages, contacting the Presidents for a chat, or using Instagram to check off their ‘lockdown to-do lists’. Meanwhile Exeter students can Get Connected this evening by joining a free interactive improvised comedy night featuring ‘Noise Next Door’, who you may have seen on this year's Britain’s Got Talent, or by joining the new 'Get Connected Community' on Facebook.

I hope you have a restful weekend, and I will be in touch next week with further updates.

Best

Mike

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary