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COVID-19 update for staff - 24 March 2022

Dear Colleagues,

Following the launch of the Government’s ‘Living with COVID strategy’, I am writing to you with a further update on the changes that will come into effect on Friday 1 April and what this means for us across our campuses.

This week marks the second anniversary of the first national lockdown. As a community we have worked together throughout the pandemic to support each other with compassion and understanding. I am proud to be part of an organisation that has not only led the way nationally in terms of our testing and vaccination programmes, but that has also provided an exceptionally supportive environment to all. I would like to thank you all for your commitment, support and patience during this time – I know this will continue as we adapt to these new changes.

Personally, I am currently suffering with COVID-19 for the second time in two years and, despite being double-jabbed and boosted, it is an extremely unpleasant experience, and I am taking all steps to ensure I do not pass it to anyone else. Whilst in many ways the ending of widespread restrictions marks a positive return to normality, we also recognise the high current case numbers and the risk that COVID-19 still poses to many people. Many colleagues and students continue to value our COVID-19 measures, and we know that the removal of restrictions may cause concern for some members of our University community. With this in mind, we have worked with our Public Health partners to identify which measures will remain on our campuses and which will be phased out. We will retain the ability to reintroduce any measures which may be necessary.

I have outlined the changes below. I have also highlighted the important role that our managers will have in supporting their teams and helping to ensure that our transition into this next phase is as smooth as possible.

Please read this information carefully – if you have any concerns, please make use of our wellbeing support services.

A separate message has been sent to students, and colleagues can read this on our COVID-19 Communications page shortly.

Summary of key points:

  • Prevention is key – if you are unwell, please stay at home
  • In line with Government guidance, free testing will continue for the most vulnerable and those who need to test in order to comply with setting or situation requirements.
  • Wearing a face covering will continue to be one of the most effective ways of preventing transmission of COVID-19, along with good hand hygiene practices

A strong focus on prevention

It is important that we continue to take steps to prevent the spread of infection. Not only is this important for controlling COVID 19, but it will also help us to reduce other types of infection, leading to a healthier place for everyone to study and work.  For this reason, if you are unwell we ask that you stay at home and continue to maintain good personal hygiene – cleaning hands, touchpoints, opening windows where required and wearing a face covering in shared indoor spaces.

Testing for people with and without symptoms will end on 1 April

The Government’s free mass testing programme will end on Friday 1 April. From this date, only the most vulnerable, and those who need to test in order to comply with setting or situation requirements, will be able to access free tests.  This means that for the majority of our community, PCR and LFD testing on our campuses will no longer be available.

We await a Government announcement on which vulnerable groups will be able to access free Government testing. Those in these eligible groups will be able to collect test kits according to Government instructions.

Following advice from Public Health, LFD and PCR testing will continue for smaller groups of people, who will still be able to access testing on our campuses for the immediate future.  These groups are:

  • Healthcare students on placements who are unable to access placement tests and Healthcare students and staff who have a role in an NHS building which requires frequent, direct contact with practicing clinicians, to comply with the setting requirement
    Students and staff will be able to collect LFD home test kits from pre-arranged collection points in the Medical School, St Luke’s Campus.  Students will be advised of these sessions via your programme teams.
  • Field trip testing for travel
    There is further guidance being created for field trip leads to help work through the criteria and this will be disseminated via the Director of Education and Student Support.  Trips planned up to 1 April have testing arrangements in place and this will not change.  Field trip leads can find details of how to access testing on our COVID-19 travel web page.
  • Research with vulnerable human participants and/or researchers
    Research leads should email - RRHOps@exeter.ac.uk with a request to access LFD home test kits for research participants and researchers who are deemed higher risk. The definition of vulnerable persons, can be found on the Government website
  • Colleagues or students in volunteer roles
    For colleagues and students who require home test kits to comply with setting policies (e.g. care homes) and who cannot access these from the setting, please email - RRHOps@exeter.ac.uk.

For any of the groups above who are part of the continued testing programme, if you have any symptoms you can access PCR testing via the Rapid Response Hub website. You will be asked to identify which group you belong to during the booking process.

All colleagues and students who will have access to testing from 1 April will continue to be asked to report positive results to the Rapid Response Hub, who will be able to support and provide advice.

Testing up to Friday 1 April

Testing remains available on campus for all colleagues and students until (and including) Thursday 31 March. LFD home test kits can be collected from the collection points on our campuses - one test kit contains seven tests and is expected to last two to three weeks.

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you can continue to get a PCR test on campus up to 1 April – you can book your test online.

Measures that will remain in place to the end of the summer term

We recognise the value that many members of our community continue to place on our COVID-19 preventative measures. To that end and following advice from local Public Health teams, the following measures will remain in place until the end of the summer term:

  • Recommendation to wear a reusable face covering in shared indoor spaces
  • 2m teaching zone and teaching protocols
  • Enhanced touch point cleaning
  • Cleaning stations to enable cleaning prior to using shared spaces
  • Hand sanitiser stations
  • Ventilation and window instructions
  • Hosting vaccination clinics – on campus in Exeter and locally in Penryn
  • Perspex screens
  • Zoned area in the library for those who want to wear a face covering

Removal of other measures

There are a limited number of COVID-19 measures that will no longer be in place and these are listed below:

  • The requirement to log your location using the QR codes on our campuses has ended and these posters are in the process of being removed across campus.
  • We will be removing the webpage that publishes COVID-19 cases (due to changes in testing) and replacing it with dashboards showing Devon and Cornwall data.

Supporting your teams - guidance for managers

We understand that the removal of some of the controls we have had in place throughout the pandemic will affect different individuals in different ways. Managers will play a key role in supporting teams through this transition and helping prepare them for this next phase.

To help discussions with teams and to identify colleagues who may have additional needs or concerns, whether health-related, personal, or practical, we have updated our Guidance for Managers. This guidance includes details of the COVID-19 age assessment and the personal risk assessment which will help determine any adjustments that need to be made.

In addition, managers should also continue to have conversations with their teams about their work location and, via the Future of Work programme, should begin to identify whether teams are remote, on campus or blended in their working arrangements. Guidance on the process for recording this will follow from HR in the next few weeks.

For teams that may be returning to campus after a period of working from home, a Manager’s toolkit and framework for returning to campus is available on the website. This also outlines the support available to you and your teams should you need it.

Managers should continue to keep their business continuity plans up to date.

On-going support for colleagues and students

Wellbeing support, including support for those who are most vulnerable, continues to be available via our wellbeing services. In addition, guidance and training to help people understand Long COVID and provide support to colleagues where needed, will be available from April.

The Rapid Response advice teams in Exeter and Penryn, will remain in place until the end of this term, and our Here to Help team in Exeter will also remain to support a variety of teaching and general activities, including our vaccination clinics.

All the best,

Mike

 

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary