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COVID-19 update 2: Autumn term 2020

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Message to all colleagues from the co-Chairs of the COVID-19 Major Recovery Team and the Major Incident Team 

Dear colleagues,

With the term now well underway, the life of the University continues apace. This is an extremely busy time of year even without the added dimension of COVID-19 and our huge thanks go to everyone for keeping things moving - whether its virtual and face-to-face teaching, research, student support, on-site campus services or professional support. Media coverage of the return of universities has often focused on the ‘turmoil' but it is testament to everyone's commitment and hard work that everything is running so smoothly!

There have also been significant developments on the COVID-19 front since the most recent update last week, including the Prime Minister's announcement on Monday of a three-tier system of local COVID alerts in England. This has not resulted in any new restrictions for the Reading and Wokingham area, but we are working through the details of this system, alongside the four-tier system for managing local outbreaks previously advised by the Department for Education, to make sure we are ready to respond if required.

Here are some further updates on other developments that we hope you find helpful. A similar note will also be sent to students today.

University of Reading COVID-19 Case Management Team

The University has established a new COVID-19 Case Management Team to support the national Track & Trace system. The team will go live today, Wednesday, and be led by Gurinder Singh Purewal, Teacher Practitioner Pharmacist in our School of Pharmacy. Gurinder has extensive experience of the national Track & Trace system, and the new team will enable us to respond quickly to provide support and guidance to those members of our community who have tested positive for COVID-19, and their close contacts.

Where the University is advised of a positive COVID-19 test for a student or colleague, the Case Management Team will work with the affected individual to identify and then make contact with their known close contacts within the University community. The team will be giving advice about when and for how long affected students and colleagues will need to self-isolate, based on government guidance, and how they can access support.

If you are contacted by the team, either because you have tested positive for COVID-19 or because you have been named as a close contact of someone within the University who has, we know you will provide them with your full support and cooperation, for the safety of our whole community. Remember, if you do receive a positive test result for COVID-19 you should advise your line manager as soon as possible.

New arrangements for seating plans for face-to-face teaching

Fortunately, the number of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among colleagues and students at Reading remains comparatively low. A handful of cases concern individuals who had attended face-to-face teaching sessions prior to developing symptoms and testing positive. Our experience with this has shown the huge value of seating plans for identifying those who were seated closest to the affected person and therefore required to self-isolate as a precaution. This has allowed us to work directly with those close contacts while minimising disruption to the wider class.

As a result, this week we are introducing arrangements for seating plans for all on-campus teaching. We appreciate that this will be an additional task at the start of each teaching sessions, so we have sought to streamline the process as much as possible while maintaining colleague and student safety. Where it is possible to do so, we recommend that you encourage students to sit in the same seat for each session, in which case you will only need to complete the seating plan once.

Each desk in our seminar rooms and lecture theatres will be numbered. Hard-copy attendance forms will be available on each of the tech desks in teaching spaces and available on the T&L coronavirus FAQs page shortly. We ask that you use this form to record student attendance against their corresponding desk number. The form includes more detail on completion and safe storage.

We then ask that teaching colleagues hold this data securely, in line with the guidance on the form, for 21 days after the final teaching session to which the seating plan relates. The Case Management Team will contact relevant colleagues if someone who was in a teaching session receives a positive test result. We can then determine which other people have been within 2 metres of them for 15 minutes or more.

The communication going to students today explains the new process. It also reminds them of the importance of wearing a face covering when attending teaching sessions (unless exempt from doing so), following all safety signs and instructions, and maintaining distance from others in corridors and when entering and exiting rooms and buildings.

Mobile testing unit

We are very pleased to report that, following extensive coordination with local health authorities, we have secured a mobile testing unit to be onsite at our Whiteknights campus today and tomorrow. This will be available for booking through the national portal and will hopefully make it easier for colleagues and students who have symptoms of COVID-19 to secure a local test quickly and easily.

Work is progressing well with the Reading Borough Council to secure an indoor testing facility on site for the University and wider Reading community, and we hope to have more information on this soon. In the meantime, and until the indoor site is in place, we hope that the mobile unit will continue to visit the campus periodically.

Outbreak planning and teaching in the spring term

As set out in our phased return roadmap, we have been working towards a best case scenario whereby the situation with the pandemic in the UK had improved sufficiently by January to enable us to start to increase face-to-face teaching activities in the spring term.

Given the national situation and ongoing social distancing measures, it is now looking less likely that we will be able to increase further our on-campus provision. However, we have had feedback from our students that the blended model is generally working well and that they value face-to-face teaching as part of their learning experience. So our intention is to continue that approach into the spring term, subject of course to ongoing developments nationally and locally. We will share more information with you in the coming weeks.

We are still below the threshold outlined in our first update of the term for Reading Borough Council to designate an Incident Management Team to work with us. Nevertheless, we have an outbreak plan in place, which sets out a range of actions should local or national restrictions require us to change our current approach. We are updating the roadmap to outline our plans in more detail and we will share this and the outbreak plan with you soon. 


Best wishes,

Parveen, Paul, Julian and Dominik

Professor Parveen Yaqoob, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Paul Inman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) - Co-Chairs of the Major Incident Team

Professor Julian Park, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education and Student Experience) and Professor Dominik Zaum, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) - Co-Chairs, Major Recovery Team

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