In this latest update on our institutional approach to COVID-19, we set out the University’s new offer of free mass lateral flow antigen (asymptomatic) testing ahead of the winter break. We also outline plans for January 2021, our revised policy on the use of visors during in-person teaching, and preliminary findings from last month’s staff wellbeing pulse survey.
Mass testing of students
From Monday 30 November to Wednesday 9 December, we will be offering free mass lateral flow antigen (asymptomatic) testing for all our students. These lateral flow tests can return a rapid result.
Students will be offered two tests, ideally leaving three days between the first and second test. Results will go to the student directly. If students do return a positive result, they will be required to self-isolate and book a standard PCR test. If this test also returns a positive result, provided it was taken by 9 December they should be able to complete the required period of self-isolation and still travel home for the winter break.
Our two test sites will be located in the Bristol Students’ Union Anson Rooms (BS8 1LN) and at North Village Wills Conference Centre (BS9 1AE). Students can book their tests online and read what to expect on the day and what to do if they test positive, and find more detailed information on our new ‘Mass testing’ webpage.
Asymptomatic staff intending to travel may also make use of this testing service. However, please do keep in mind that the focus of this particular window is student travel. We are currently in active dialogue with Public Health England to explore whether we are able to offer testing beyond the end of the national testing window. Meetings are ongoing this week and we will look to confirm our position as soon as possible thereafter.
Subject to any change in government guidance, and in line with our risk assessment framework, we will be continuing our blended learning and assessment offering to students in January. We do however wish to provide students with the opportunity to stagger their return to campus in 2021 following the winter vacation, to allow them to make the best choices about their study circumstances given the continuing impact of COVID-19.
We are asking Schools to decide on a programme basis whether students are required to be in Bristol for weeks 11 and 12 and the assessment period, and to communicate this accordingly. We anticipate a second testing regime will underpin their safe return prior to any in-person teaching.
Face coverings and visors on campus
As part of our commitment to listening to feedback and taking evidence-based decisions where we can improve on our practices, we are making some refinements to our current guidance and operations, which we hope colleagues will find helpful.
Following feedback from the Student Pulse Survey, debate at the recent special meeting of Senate and consideration at the University Executive Board about the impact wearing both a face-covering and visor can have on teaching and learning, we have reviewed and revised our requirement for visors to be worn in addition to face coverings in in-person teaching spaces.
Updated SAGE and related sub-groups now advise that, while face coverings are likely to be effective at reducing the emission of respiratory droplets and aerosols containing virus into the environment, the effectiveness of standard visors as a mitigation, especially where two-metre distancing can be maintained, is now considered minimal.
In addition, the evidence in terms of cases suggests there is little to no evidence of transmission of the virus in teaching spaces across the campus and that the risk of transmission is low.
Based on this, University Executive Board has decided that visors are therefore no longer mandatory. Face coverings will continue to be mandatory in all our spaces unless there is a specific risk assessment in place that defines different measures.
Face visors will still be available for use if teaching staff or students feel wearing both would provide reassurance or where there is an underlying health condition.
Staff wellbeing survey
We are currently finalising our analysis of last month’s staff wellbeing pulse survey, the preliminary findings of which were shared on today’s livestream. The survey was designed to take a temperature check of aspects of our wellbeing and how it’s supported. With more than 2,000 respondents, headline findings include:
- 55% of colleagues agreed or strongly agreed their overall wellbeing at work was good;
- 72% of colleagues agreed or strongly agreed their manager shows sufficient concern about their wellbeing;
- compared to 2018, fewer colleagues are never (-4%) or occasionally (-9%) stressed;
- more colleagues are frequently (+9%) or always (+3%) stressed;
- there is a difference between academic staff and Professional Services staff responses, both in terms of how staff feel about their workload and the extent to which they engage in wellbeing support. Academics are less likely to engage with or be aware of support but are more likely to experience stress.
There is clearly further work for us to do in this space, and the findings of the survey will be considered by University Executive Board and others over the coming weeks. Initial Faculty and Divisional Data packs will be shared by 30 November to support local discussion and planning while we continue to review the additional comments staff provided in the survey. The summary findings and the follow-up action plan will also be available to all colleagues on the Staff Survey site once the analysis is complete.
Light at the end of the tunnel
It’s a phenomenal achievement of the global scientific community that there are now three (and, potentially, soon four) safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon. We can all be particularly proud of our colleagues in the COVID-19 Emergency Research Group (UNCOVER) for their considerable and ongoing contribution to understanding the virus and supporting the development of these vaccines (including the University’s role as one of the biggest recruiters to the Oxford vaccine trials).
Thanks to these extraordinary efforts, the world now has a promising path out of the pandemic. However, while we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, there remains some way to go before we see the end of the pandemic. In the meantime, we will continue to listen to feedback, take evidence-informed decisions and be guided by our institutional risk assessment framework.
Stay safe and thank you again for all your hard work.