This is the first in a new series of regular updates, setting out how the University is addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and keeping our students, staff and neighbouring communities safe.
This update is focused on how the University’s daily risk assessment framework helps us to quickly identify challenges, make informed decisions and address specific colleague concerns.
The University’s risk assessment framework
The Department for Education has set out four COVID response tiers that are specific to universities, colleges and schools. These detail the government’s expectations for teaching provision under different levels of risk, as assessed by Public Health England (PHE). Our community is currently assessed to be in Tier 1. This means we are expected to continue providing blended learning with face-to-face tuition until 3 December, when the government’s student travel “window” begins, followed by a temporary transition to full online provision by 9 December. We will also continue to follow public health guidance, including, for example, the appropriate use of face coverings.
Each university is also required by the government to provide a local Outbreak Plan, setting out both the safety mitigation in place and its approach for responding to any rise in COVID-19 cases on campus. Our own Outbreak Plan is underpinned by a robust multi-layered approach to risk management.
The first, foremost layer is our individual risk assessment process. This holistically assesses individual staff risk, taking both clinical and non-clinical factors into account, with the aim of safeguarding colleagues at most risk of adverse or serious reactions to COVID-19. If you are concerned about your safety and have not already done so, please make use of this individual risk assessment process at the earliest opportunity.
The next layer is our activity and space-based risk assessments. This includes regular assessments made by Campus Division, but also the risk assessments colleagues must make prior to undertaking education or research activities. For example, considering whether existing research risks have changed in light of our new COVID-secure working arrangements. This is all underpinned by our COVID Working Guide which sets out the overarching roles, responsibilities, mitigations and measures in place to reduce the risks to as low as is reasonably practicable.
Finally, monitoring the number of new and active cases in our community is central to our overall risk management approach. Following daily analysis of reported case numbers (including at living circle level), senior colleagues from across the University attend Daily Situation Review meetings with PHE and Bristol City Council where that data is reviewed in detail.
This Daily Situation Review process then feeds into PHE’s weekly Risk Assessment of the University. This is where we consider specific issues of concern raised by colleagues; issues such as background rates of infection and their cause; the effectiveness of our interventions and controls; and whether there is evidence that cases in our community are linked. It is also where PHE make their weekly recommendation on our overall operating model and COVID response tier.
This approach to risk management has prompted us to introduce several successful mitigations which have helped reduce the level of outbreak in our community, such as the deployment of Mobile Testing Units where they have been most needed.
As things stand, it’s encouraging to see that the daily number of new staff and student cases continues to fall – from 202 on 13 October to 31 on 11 November. In addition, the number of active cases in our community fell from a mid-October peak of 949 to 126 on 11 November. Over that same period, the seven-day rolling average has also fallen from 103 to 23.
I hope these figures provide some reassurance and demonstrate that the careful steps we are taking through our approach to risk management have helped reduce the risk of infection on campus. We will continue, of course, to do all we can to bring those case numbers down even further.
It was heartening to see the thanks and recognition shared by colleagues on last week’s livestream for the fantastic work of Professional Services colleagues across our community over these past few months. Your tireless efforts have indeed made our blended learning environment possible, helped keep us all safe, and ensured our University is functioning as best it can at this difficult time. Thank you!
If you’d like to send your own special message of thanks to a colleague or team across the University, don’t forget that our new Thanks and Recognition Wall is on hand to help you do just that. If you’ve not already done so, please consider sending a message and help make a colleague’s day.
I hope you’ve found this update useful. I’ll be sharing further updates in the coming weeks.