A message to staff and students from the Vice-Chancellor about asymptomatic screening, testing for staff and two funds to support University employees.
Asymptomatic screening for students
Although most of our students are away from the University at the moment, there are many for whom Cambridge is home, or who fall into the exceptional categories of students who have been allowed to return. For those students, asymptomatic COVID-19 screening resumed in January.
Between the 1 and 7 February, we screened 4,058 students with zero positive cases reported. This is remarkable, and hugely encouraging. It shows that our screening programme, deployed alongside robust preventive measures, is effective in helping us keep students, staff and the wider community safe.
My thanks and congratulations to the team running our successful screening programme. My thanks and congratulations also to our students, who from the programme’s inception have participated actively. In doing so they have contributed in a very significant way to preventing the transmission of disease across the wider Cambridge community.
Our screening programme has attracted the attention of other institutions looking to learn from, or replicate, its success. It is also helping scientists and public health specialists understand the transmission dynamics of coronavirus infection. To better understand the importance of what our asymptomatic screening programme set out to do, and what is had achieved, I encourage you all to read this article published recently on the University website.
We are continuing to offer testing at the Fen’s Causeway or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods for any staff member or student with symptoms of possible COVID-19, whether or not they are participating in the asymptomatic screening programme. This currently extends to others in the student or staff member’s households. The criteria for eligibility have been expanded to include minor symptoms.
The University recently launched its pilot Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) programme for College and University staff. Colleagues not eligible for the University’s LFT pilot scheme will wish to know that the local authority has set up a rapid testing facility at the Meadows Community Centre, in North Cambridge. It will be opening on 12 February, and will allow key workers and those who cannot work from home to take rapid asymptomatic tests. There are other testing centres in the region (Cambourne, Soham, Huntingdon, Wisbech) that may be more convenient for some. Anyone registering for rapid tests at these centres will be asked to take a test twice a week.
Guidance for students
We are expecting to receive guidance from the Government on 22 February about when, and under what circumstances, all students will be able to return to the University. I will communicate on this shortly after. In the meantime, students can expect to hear next week from our Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Virgo, about the package of mitigation for next term’s assessments.
Supporting University staff
The University will continue to support its employees through this difficult period, and has recently announced the creation of a Teaching Support Fund (TSF) and a Career Support Fund (CSF).
The TSF will provide colleagues with additional academic resources to support their teaching. The CSF aims to support University staff whose careers have been adversely affected by the pandemic. It will be accessible to all University employees who can provide evidence that their career has been, or is being, disrupted as a direct result of the pandemic, or who have needed to take a career break for caring responsibilities. Schools and departments have been issued with guidance on the TSF and CSF, and on how they will work. The schemes apply only to staff who are employed by the University. More information on both schemes is available here.
Members of staff will be aware that the University took the difficult decision to suspend all staff promotion and contribution reward schemes for this academic year, with one exception. The University Council will be asked at its next meeting to confirm that all such schemes will run as normal next year, and to review the budgetary implications. Exceptionally, we have continued to run one Contribution Reward Scheme this year as part of our overall package of support measures. This has allowed Assistant staff in grades 1-5 to apply for a single contribution payment. Due to the very high standard of applications, and to the exceptional contribution made by so many members of the University’s assistant staff colleagues over the past year, we have now provided additional funds for this scheme. Successful applicants will be informed of the outcome shortly.
In praise of wellbeing
Although we are beginning to see some promising developments, this has felt like a particularly long winter. I know from my own experience, and from listening to people across the University, that many of us are now tired and on edge. As a community we are nothing if not professional, and I recognise that everyone is trying to do their best. Alongside our many home duties, however, this can increasingly seem like a struggle. It is not surprising that many of us lack motivation or feel, quite simply, fed up. These are really hard times, and it is likely that we are not operating in top form. There is no shame in that.
It is more important than ever to be mindful of our wellbeing. There is work to be done, certainly, but we need to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Colleagues at the University Information Services have just posted a short film describing the ways in which many of them are looking after their physical and mental health. Perhaps we can all recognise the sentiment, expressed in the film, that there will be good days and not-so-good days. And hopefully we will all agree about the benefits of taking a break, getting outdoors, speaking to others, or spending time doing the things we love.
Elsewhere on our webpages, I have thoroughly enjoyed these “Confessions of a home-working and home-schooling parent”, which offer a candid glimpse into the realities of caring for young children while negotiating with the national media and producing some of University’s biggest news stories. It is admirable, moving and uplifting. It is just what I needed to read today, and I hope you will feel the same way too.
One of the traditional delights of life in Cambridge – one I have been missing greatly – is listening to wonderful music in extraordinary places. 2020 would have been the year when Kettle’s Yard celebrated 50 years of hosting live musical performances. The gallery had to postpone its Gala performance, but has now made a film featuring the Maxwell Quartet playing in the Kettle’s Yard house, surrounded by some of the gallery’s magnificent art. Something else to lift our spirits.
With best wishes,
Prof Stephen J Toope