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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff – 19 May 2021

Dear Colleagues

Key points

  • The further easing of restrictions this week is welcome, but we must all remain cautious and act responsibly
  • Bookings are now open for the Festival of Discovery from 24 May to 4 June with events to suit everyone
  • Case numbers on our campuses remain very low
  • Planning is underway to enable the return of more colleagues to on-campus working
  • Some key changes in our Research Restart approach come into effect this week
  • You can now pick up your free COVID-19 home test kit
  • Our wellbeing support is here whenever you need it

Full message

This week we have seen the further lifting of national restrictions, which is another important step along the roadmap to normality and a sign of the progress we have all made in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 within our communities.

It has been great to see more students able to return to in-person activities, and next week we have our Festival of Discovery, with hundreds of sessions for you to join. Details of the events and how to book your place are below.

We have also all been watching the news concerning new variants over the last week, and it is clear that COVID-19 still presents a significant risk to us all. In particular, the progress over the next few weeks will determine whether we are able to enjoy further easing of restrictions in June. So I urge everyone to act cautiously and responsibly and always remain within the guidelines.

Using our indoor spaces

Remember that the Rule of 6 applies indoors, including in our study spaces, and we must continue to use our indoor spaces in the COVID-19 secure way in which they have been set out, including respecting occupancy limits, opening windows and following one-way systems where they are in place. We must all observe the basic hygiene guidelines at all times. HANDS. FACE. SPACE. FRESH AIR.

Festival of Discovery

We’re pleased to announce that bookings are now open for the Festival of Discovery.  The Festival will run from Monday 24 May – Friday 4June, with over 250 events across our campuses and more than 100 events available to join online.  The Festival will offer exciting academic and social events for students to attend including keynote speakers, sports activities, career support, society-led events, food stalls and entertainment, as well as offering the chance for students to reconnect with their friends and academic departments.

From coding workshops, Black History tours and Cornish taster sessions to mindfulness, Tai Chi and growing your own wild flowers, there’s something for everyone, including a Creative Dialogues event with writer and director Amma Asante MBE and keynotes from our Vice-Chancellor Lisa Roberts and Molly Dineen and Owen Foster who graduated early last year to join the fight against COVID-19.

We’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Festival so far. Staff are very welcome to attend the Festival events and you can find out more about the events and how to book your place at www.exeter.ac.uk/festivalofdiscovery. If you’d like to volunteer to support the Festival, please email festivalofdiscovery@exeter.ac.uk

COVID-19 case numbers

The overall rate of positive results on our campuses and across the region remains very low, and once again there have been no positive cases on our campuses over the last 7 days. The daily numbers of confirmed positive cases for students and staff can be found on our COVID-19 statistics web page. Data is available up to 16 May, at which time the 7-day rolling daily average of positive cases was 0.0.

Returning to work on campus - update

Planning is underway to enable the return of more colleagues to on-campus working. Due to the Government social distancing guidance that is still in place, restrictions remain on the numbers of staff able to work safely on campus at any one time. This means that a return to on-campus working needs to be managed carefully to ensure everyone is protected and remains safe.

Over the next few weeks, the executive teams in our Colleges and Services will be working with managers to determine a phased approach for returning to on-campus working. This may mean that teams work in a blended way, with some time spent on campus and some continued home working. There may be some teams that are able to continue to work from home full-time and there will be teams where working on campus is necessary, particularly as more students begin to return. We also recognise that for some colleagues already working on campus, your circumstances will not change.

As part of this process, managers will begin to have conversations with their teams to ensure any circumstances which may impact a return to campus are understood. Guidance for managers is being developed and will be shared in the coming weeks, as well as guidance for all staff, on the necessary training and risk assessment steps that should be undertaken to enable your safe return.

Regular testing will continue to be part of our requirement for returning to campus.

We understand that whilst some colleagues would like to return as soon as possible, others may feel anxious about returning. We recognise that this is another significant change in the way we work and are mindful of this as we continue to develop our approach for returning to campus. Our planning continues to be in line with the Government roadmap and all activities and University buildings have been risk assessed as COVID-19 secure.  For anyone with concerns, we have a range of wellbeing support in place and we would encourage you to speak to your line manager so that they can support you.

The future of working on campus – what next?

As we work towards some colleagues returning to campus working, planning is also underway on the ‘Future of Work’ programme, which is looking to define our longer term ways of working.  The programme will explore how our University operations, use of space and working environment can be adapted going forward, learning the lessons from the last year whilst ensuring connectedness and wellbeing remain at the heart of our community.

The programme will continually evolve and improve our ways of working as we head into 2022 and will support both the longer-term strategy of the University as well as our Sustainability agenda. We will share more information with colleagues over the summer on how you can get involved.

Research update

Following confirmation by the UK Government of the latest step in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions from 17 May, some key changes under our Research Restart approach are summarised below. Further details have recently been circulated to our academic community by Neil Gow, DVC Research & Impact.

Onsite Research

From now, formal approval from the Research Restart panel for on-site activities will no longer be required and instead can be locally agreed by the Director of College Operations in collaboration with facilities managers.

Social distancing measures remain in place and therefore capacities in labs and office spaces is unchanged.  Researchers should continue to follow the local booking/rota systems and safety measures in laboratories, workspaces and offices where appropriate.

Further easing of restrictions is planned for mid-June, depending on the relevant COVID-19 data. However, it is anticipated that some practical constraints and guidance will remain in place, including some element of social distancing.  We are modelling different scenarios for increasing capacity for research activities on campus, depending on national requirements.  We expect to retain booking/rota systems even if social distancing is removed, to allow us to carefully manage and monitor our spaces, and to respond quickly to any local or national outbreaks.

Please remember to get tested regularly if you are working on campus.

Fieldwork

From now, formal approval from the Research Restart panel for UK fieldwork will no longer be required and instead can be locally agreed by Directors of Research.

Authorisation of international fieldwork remains more complex. We need to carefully consider the essential nature of the research at this time in the context of Government travel restrictions, for example taking into account the travel bans applied to specific countries.  Therefore, all international requests must still be approved by the Research Restart panel.

Human Participants

From now, all research studies that involve contact with human participants at less than 2m social distancing can go ahead regardless of participant COVID-19 age, with appropriate mitigation (and risk-assessed according to relevant Government guidance).  This will include mitigations to reduce contact time, screening of participants by testing (which will need to be evidenced) and other measures.  Vaccination can be considered as part of any mitigation and the initial dose should have been administered at least 2 weeks before any procedures involving contact at less than 2m can proceed. Research Restart panel approval will not be required.

Limitations on capacity in support facilities such as the Clinical Research Facility means that work will need to be prioritised.  This will continue to be reviewed in line with the Government roadmap and review of social distancing measures.

It’s now even easier to get COVID-19 tested - pick up your free home test kit now

You can now pick up a free COVID-19 home test kit at any of our campuses and carry on testing regularly in your own home.

Colleagues in Cornwall can pick up your home test kit at the Penryn Campus Sports Centre or at Falmouth University’s Falmouth Campus Reception - you’ll need to book a time to pick up your kit.

For colleagues in Exeter, you can just drop into the collection points below – please check the website for collection opening times

  • Streatham Sports Hall 
  • Car Park B, drive through (including cyclists and pedestrians)
  • Devonshire House (with additional accessibility facilities)

A collection point on our St Luke’s campus will open on Monday next week.

If you’re returning to work on campus or visiting irregularly and haven’t taken a test before, we recommend that you book three tests at your nearest test centre as soon as you can to ensure you understand how to take your test and get the most accurate result from your home test kit. You can then collect your kit and carry on testing yourself at your own convenience.

Once you get your home test result, you must report this to the Government’s online LFD result registration. Details on how to do this are included in your kit. You must report your result whether it is negative, positive or void.

If you test positive, you must self-isolate and also book a confirmatory HALO/PCR test. You can do this easily through the University and we offer a faster test result than the NHS testing process, which means you’ll be out of isolation much quicker. We can also offer you additional support throughout the process and during your period of self-isolation – book your HALO/PCR test using our online form for Exeter or Penryn

However you do your test, it’s important to do it regularly to help prevent the spread of coronavirus – it’s quick and easy, and the results are usually back within an hour.

Don’t forget, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, the test you need is different. Please contact our Rapid Response Hub to book your HALO/PCR test.

For more info on testing and FAQs, visit our testing website

Your wellbeing

As ever, please remember that our wellbeing services are available whenever you might need them. Please do contact them if you need support.

Best

Mike

 

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary