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Important update on COVID-19: University to launch on-campus rapid testing

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The following message was sent to all colleagues from Deputy Vice-Chancellor Parveen Yaqoob.

Dear colleagues,

The University is launching an on-campus COVID-19 testing service, following the government's announcement of plans to facilitate student travel between 3 to 9 December. In providing quick and free on-campus testing, we hope to provide reassurance to our community ahead of the Christmas break, particularly those intending to travel.

A message will also go to students today, which you can read on Essentials.

Establishing asymptomatic testing facilities on campus

The new on-campus service will run from Tuesday 1 December until Friday 11 December, but this may be extended further depending on capacity. Bookings will open at 12 noon on Wednesday 25 November and there will be multiple slots each hour. The centre will be open for all students and colleagues who have been working on campus during the 14 days prior to the test. Details of how you can book will be shared next week.

In order to support the government's request for students to travel in the 3 to 9 December window, bookings will initially be prioritised in the early part of the travel window for the approximately 8,000 students on campus. The centre will then remain open beyond this window for colleagues who have been working on site and those students planning to travel after that date, for example PGR students.

The testing service will operate in the Sports Hall on Whiteknights campus from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 4pm on Saturday.

What to expect

There are different types of COVID-19 test. The kind that the government is supplying to universities is called a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). This measures the amount of virus in your system, called the ‘viral load', using swabs from your nose and mouth. It is quick and easy to administer, with the whole process taking no more than 20 minutes. You will also get results quickly, usually within 20 to 30 minutes, delivered to you by text or email.

The evidence shows that LFTs are very accurate, but they are different from the PCR variety of test offered in national NHS testing centres. However, free testing through the NHS system is only available to those displaying symptoms. Our LFTs will be available to those not displaying symptoms to provide reassurance that they are not carrying the virus.

There are three possible test outcomes:

  • If you test positive, it is strongly recommended that you take a confirmatory PCR test through the main NHS testing system. This is the kind of test offered at the indoor testing centre on our London Road campus and you can book it online. You will also need to self-isolate and let your line manager know that you have tested positive.
  • If you test negative, best clinical practice recommends that you should repeat the test three days later to confirm your negative result. This is because the ‘viral load' in your system might be low initially and so might not show up on an LFT very early in your illness.
  • If you test negative but you are subsequently identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive, you will need to undertake a period of self-isolation, but you can choose to do this either at home or at your holiday address, if you plan to travel.

Financial implications of offering testing

Given the financial challenges the University faces, a number of colleagues have quite rightly raised questions about the costs that we are incurring in response to COVID-19 and the availability of financial support from government. As Robert has explained in a couple of all staff briefings, while government subsidisation is not available for much of our response, including the Case Management Team, we are determined that we must do the right thing for the safety and wellbeing of our community even if that does incur a cost. Testing is the right thing to do and we would do it regardless, but I am very pleased to say that the government will be reimbursing universities for the costs of administering testing up to a fixed limit.

Notably, this limit would not cover full end-to-end delivery of the testing process by an external provider, from planning and establishment of a testing facility through to administration of the centre and undertaking of testing. To keep our costs as close to the government cap as possible and to minimise the financial implications for the University, we intend to manage as much of this process as possible ‘in-house' and I am pleased to be leading a hugely committed and competent Mass Testing Team, which is hard at work on planning.

Other steps you can take to keep yourself, family and friends safe

In addition to testing, there is much that all of us can do to help reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • comply strictly with all government and University guidance, particularly when socialising - this includes wearing face coverings, washing hands regularly and maintaining social distance
  • report through your line manager if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or receive a positive test result
  • download the NHS Track and Trace app and the University's own CallMy Alert app
  • check that the mobile number recorded in the Employee Self-Service system is correct so that the Case Management Team can contact you by text message or phone call if needed
  • check your University email and the Staff Portal regularly for the latest information and guidance.

We will update you with details of the booking system next week before it opens but if you have any questions, please contact our COVID-19 support line on 0118 214 7813 from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and 11am to 4pm at weekends.

Best wishes,

Parveen

Professor Parveen Yaqoob (Deputy Vice-Chancellor)
Chair of the Mass Testing Team

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