Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s blog: Our outbreak response

September 16th, 2020

In this week’s Recovery blog Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Long gives an update on outbreak preparedness, the launch of our university testing programme as well as outlining everyone’s responsibilities to keep our community safe.

Dear colleagues,

We are now days away from the start of the academic year, having implemented measures across our campuses so that we can deliver our teaching and undertake our research as safely as possible. This has been an enormous effort involving staff from teams across the University, who have worked carefully and tirelessly throughout the summer. I would like to thank you all sincerely for your efforts, without which we would not have been able to re-open our fantastic campuses.

Of course the nature of the virus means that we should expect to see cases among our community, just as we will see cases in wider society. With this in mind it seems timely to reiterate our plans for managing potential outbreaks.

The testing pilot that has been carried out in the Vet School has provided a great insight into how responsibly students are behaving, their positive reactions to being part of an asymptomatic study and navigating the practicalities of running a testing programme.

We are working closely with the public health authorities to ensure our wider student and staff community have access to testing. We will have dedicated local walk-in testing centres, linked to the Government’s Lighthouse Labs, at University Park and Jubilee Campuses. In addition to this we will also develop a voluntary Asymptomatic Testing Service for students and staff. Availability of these tests will be carefully targeted at reducing the transmission of COVID-19 by those without symptoms, particularly in our halls of residence.

This service, which we are also looking to extend to Nottingham Trent University, could not be achieved without the expertise of the virologists and scientists we are fortunate to have within our University community. We will share more as plans develop.

Outbreak response
I wrote to you some weeks ago about our outbreak response plans. Over the last few weeks we have been testing these plans against a range of scenarios and developing and refining our processes accordingly.

These exercises have demonstrated to us that everyone must be absolutely clear on what they need to do if they are symptomatic, self-isolating, or have a positive national NHS test result.

The University process is to: Isolate, Notify, Test.

Isolate if you have contracted, potentially contracted or have come into contact with someone with symptoms of COVID-19.

Notify the university if any of the above applies. Staff should contact HR immediately via a Covid-19 Absence Notification form. This applies regardless of whether you have returned to campus or not.

Students should be directed to use our email helpline or complete a form to report symptoms and self-isolating or to report a positive test.

In addition, from Monday 21st September staff and students will also be able to report symptoms and receive help and advice through our COVID-19 Helpline 0115 748 4800.

These notification processes, which are managed 24/7, then trigger various support measures for those who need to self-isolate including: meals for students in halls, rooms appropriately marked as ‘no entry’, and household members notified and supported. Students living off-campus will also be supported with care packages of essential items and any relevant guidance.

Test. Anyone who develops symptoms should get a national NHS test.

Contact tracing
Through these processes staff members and students will be asked to provide details of where they have been on campus and who they have been in contact with, in case additional cleaning or other measures are required. In the event of a positive test result, NHS Test and Trace will contact all those who have been in close contact with the individual, supported by our Incident Management Team (IMT).

It is important that staff and students do not share information about potential cases unless asked to do so by IMT. This is to respect patient confidentiality, avoid causing unnecessary worry and ensure the correct guidance and advice is issued at all times.

As part of our outbreak response we have developed plans to use Eduroam, the University’s WiFi network, to support with contact tracing and prevent the spread of the virus as quickly as possible.

We will also now need to capture contact details for any visitors that come on to campus either as part of contractor work or to meet with staff. Please see the visitor guidance for more details.

Our commitment
It goes without saying that to protect the wellbeing of our own community – and those around us – we all have our part to play.

For our students we have updated our code of discipline to extend to social distancing measures and we have encouraged them to sign up to the COVID pledge and make a visible commitment to upholding them. We are expecting the same adherence to COVID secure measures from all in our community (although the pledge is specifically for students – as staff we are all contractually obliged to uphold guidelines and policies).

Now more than ever we all need to work together to ensure our campus environment protects the most vulnerable among us. We can do this most effectively by following the five pillars of our health and safety response: wear a face covering inside buildings, follow hygiene procedures, follow signage on campus, maintain social distancing, and do not come on to campus if you feel unwell, display COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with anyone with symptoms.

Best Wishes,

Professor Andy Long
Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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