Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 9 October 2020
Dear Colleagues and Students,
Earlier in the week I updated you on the latest COVID case numbers associated with the University. Since then we have continued to conduct hundreds of tests each day and to monitor the results closely.
The latest data published on the Devon County Council website shows that over the 7-day period up to 6 October there were 532 cases recorded in Exeter. We know from Public Health England (PHE) that more than 80% of these cases are attributable to the University. We also know that the number of cases amongst students on our Penryn campus remains small.
These cases are almost all within student households and residences. There remains no evidence of transmission to the wider community, nor of transmission within our COVID-secure teaching spaces. We have seen no increase in the small number of staff cases.
We review our data, current measures and future plans with Public Health England on a daily basis. PHE has advised us that if we are able to retain our current levels of vigilance then we may begin to see the rate of cases gradually reduce. They have also advised us that relaxation of our current measures too early could potentially have the opposite effect, encouraging increased transmission once again, before case numbers have reduced.
For this reason, and following PHE guidance, I am asking students based in Exeter to continue not to meet indoors with students who are not part of your household for a further week, until 19th October. The exceptions are for educational sessions on campus, working or volunteering, organised sports and in the case of emergency when someone is vulnerable or in danger.
I know that this will come as a disappointment, but PHE tells us that this specific measure is having a significant impact on the transmission of the disease, both between students and from students to the wider community. Continuing to bear down on the transmission of COVID-19 is the only way we can keep our community safe and avoid further restrictions. We will review this measure next week and I will update you next Friday.
The University and PHE have been hugely impressed by the way that students have complied with the COVID-19 guidelines, along with the additional measures we have requested. It is clear from our discussions with PHE and our partners in Exeter that our compliance with the guidelines will be a major factor in any decision as to whether we may face greater local restrictions in the near future. For all these reasons, we need to hold our current position.
We are continuing to provide rapid testing for staff and students and over the last week our testing capacity has been increased by the addition of an NHS Mobile Testing Unit on the Streatham Campus. Unfortunately there were some delays in getting results from the Mobile Testing Unit back to students who had begun self-isolating, and we are sorry for the concern this may have caused. We have been assured that the technical issue that caused this has now been resolved. Our testing data is fed back into the national system and has been critical in our work with PHE, Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Cornwall Council to monitor and control the spread of the infection.
Over recent days we have seen the balance in positive cases in Exeter shift from student houses in the city towards halls of residence. We have introduced a number of new measures in University residences including the re-enforcement of the need to wear face-coverings in corridors and communal areas, issuing additional wipes and hand sanitizer bottles and making changes to cleaning schedules to ensure we are targeting high touch-point areas more frequently.
We also know that it is only by consistently and rigorously following these measures that we will be able to bring the spread of the virus under control, allowing us to provide more face-to-face teaching and reintroduce many of the opportunities, activities and events that we know our students want and need. PHE has given us strong assurance that the steps we are taking are the right ones and that following them closely gives us the best chance of a return to something approaching normality soon.
These days are particularly hard for those of you who are self-isolating, and we have introduced a range of measures to try to support you through this time. We have expanded our testing capacity so you can get a test in good time should you need one. We have introduced grocery delivery services and a ‘digital hamper’ scheme to give you access to entertainment platforms. We are also making regular welfare calls and working with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union on how we can support the further expansion of peer-to-peer support schemes. The Students’ Union have a busy events schedule for students in Cornwall and the Students’ Guild have created a fantastic ‘Get Connected’ programme, packed with great events and opportunities for Exeter-based students. I encourage you to get involved.
For those of you who are coming out of periods of self-isolation, I would like to thank you for your resolve and for helping to keep those around you safe. I must also remind you that we all need to continue to abide by the restrictions and guidelines currently in place. Continue to follow the social distancing rules, wear your face-covering indoors and in busy places, and wash your hands thoroughly and often.
We all need to be mindful and considerate, on and off campus, ensuring that we maintain social distancing and good hygiene practices with members of the community. Devon & Cornwall Police have informed us that they will be increasing their patrols in Exeter with the aim of supporting the Rule of Six amongst the community. You may have a household which is larger than six, but please be aware and try to avoid causing concern by keeping group sizes low when you are out.
I hope that, through our collective efforts, we will be able to get through this difficult period together. I also know that many of us will be finding this period very hard. There is a wide range of support available for staff and students, and you can find all the details on our staff and student wellbeing page. We are continually adding to this so please check back regularly.
Public Health England, Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Cornwall Council are very supportive of the work we are all doing together to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect those we live, work and study amongst. We all have a responsibility to those around us and to their loved ones and I am proud of the commitment and compassion you have shown to each other and to our communities.
Registrar and Secretary