Monday 28 September 2020

All staff and PGR students email

Covid-19 update Monday 28 September 2020 - new testing facility

Dear colleagues,

I know many of you will have been paying close attention to media reports over the weekend highlighting clusters of Covid cases at other universities around the UK, along with tighter restrictive measures at some universities.

Our situation here in York presents a different picture at the moment, with a different and lower Covid prevalence than in many other parts of the UK. We are doing all that we can to work with the City Council and the local public health teams to assess, understand and respond to this local context.

Today, we announce details of a new testing facility for our local community - more on this below - this is a significant step towards increasing testing capacity to help manage and control the spread of coronavirus here in York.

On-campus activity

As my last update outlined, any movement from our current situation (Tier 1) will be driven by assessment of this local context, in conjunction with our partners, as well as the latest advice and guidance at the national level.

As a reminder of the framework for universities provided by the Government, we continue to operate in Tier 1, reflecting our current plans for blended, on-campus and online learning. Even with local restrictions in England, travel and movement between towns and cities for work continues so - for example - colleagues who live in Leeds, which has tighter local restrictions, are fully able to travel here to work in York.

We do, of course, recognise that some colleagues are concerned about working on campus. This week, we are working with our HR colleagues to provide more support for individual conversations we know are being raised with line-managers, and our coronavirus website has our core resources and guidance to support our on-campus activity. Here, you can find our rigorous H&S risk assessments for teaching and learning spaces, our approach to ventilation and our updated face coverings policy. We have worked closely with our campus unions, as well as drawing upon expertise across the University.

Welcoming students

We welcomed more students, in particular first year undergraduates, to campus this weekend and will continue to do so over today and tomorrow with our staggered arrivals system in place.

Feedback from the weekend indicates our carefully designed student social spaces across campus have offered good opportunities for our students to connect and start their new term in an environment that is responsible, managed and well supported. We continue to emphasise our expectations of our students, including the part we can all play in following the guidelines, and we know that the vast majority of our students have a strong sense of community and will do all they can to protect others.

This kind of support for our students is critical: with reports that outbreaks in UK universities are occurring in student social settings - and not in the classroom - we know the managed spaces we are providing are vital both for our student experience and as a public health and safety measure. However, if we were to see Covid cases in our colleges, we are well prepared to support our students who need to self-isolate, both across the logistical and physical requirements such as food delivery, but also in a way that students rightly expect of York: with care and compassion.

New testing facility

We are delighted that a walk-in Covid testing centre - on an appointment-only basis - will be up and running on campus later this week. Getting this testing facility opened has been testament to joint working across the Council, local and regional public health authorities and the University, and it is much needed.

The University has been chosen as the location of the walk-through facility for the City, in a segregated and managed area in the Wentworth Way car park.

It will be open from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week. Testing at the new site will start on Thursday 1 October and will offer appointments to those with coronavirus symptoms - a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste. Anyone with one or more of these symptoms should self-isolate immediately along with their household, and book appointments at this facility through nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.

Rest assured, we are working closely with the relevant authorities who have detailed clinical operating procedures in setting up and running these facilities. With carefully designed layouts to ensure people can move around them safely and securely, there will also be clear signage to direct those with appointments.

Those being tested will also be required to follow public health measures, including social distancing, not travelling by taxi or public transport, and wearing a face covering throughout (including travelling to and from the testing centre).

The walk-in centre is not a silver bullet. It is one of a number of measures we have been working hard to put in place. But it will form a critical part of our local response to helping manage and control outbreaks.

I will end by once again emphasising the fluid and dynamic situation we all find ourselves in. We know local or national guidance may change, and we will be ready to respond by moving through the Tiers in Government guidance should we need to. We will continue to need to keep a balance between making informed, proportionate decisions within our local context, whilst also having the preparations in place to adapt and change quickly if the situation changes.

I know our York community has faced some very difficult challenges in recent months, but this University has proved it can respond exceptionally well to unprecedented challenges, and that’s down to you all and the hard work of our whole community, so thank you.

Best wishes

Charlie

Professor Charlie Jeffery

Vice-Chancellor