Changes to COVID restrictions on our campuses for Summer Term and our move to the Steady State operational level.
With national COVID infection levels reducing, and with the NHS offering antibody and antiviral treatments to people with coronavirus (COVID-19) who are at highest risk of becoming seriously ill, Government COVID restrictions have come to an end and, as a society, we are learning to manage our lives as we move into the next phase of managing COVID-19. The University is therefore now in a position to move from the Targeted Protection level we have been in since September 2021, and into Steady State. We recognise that those members of staff based outside the UK may continue to be subject to different national restrictions.
Steady State is defined as the operational model where the risk to the University and its community is considered low enough to allow emergency COVID-related restrictions on campus to be lifted. Under Steady State the University would operate without reference to time-limited measures in place, save where these are part of the ongoing management of COVID. This means that the University will be operating under standard arrangements, developed through its usual processes and approval routes. Some of these arrangements will differ from those that were in place prior to the pandemic, to accommodate the continued existence of COVID-19 and potential future variants.
We are already operating at full capacity for the majority of spaces and events, with appropriate ventilation in place, and with all staff back at work on campus either for all their working time or in a hybrid way. From 3 May 2022 it will be a matter of personal choice whether to wear a face covering and signs around campus will be updated or removed over the next few weeks.
As face coverings will be a matter of personal choice, this might include keeping a mask in your pocket and wearing it when others would prefer you to, for example, if they are wearing a mask and social distancing is not possible. Masks continue to be available from Central Stores in Colchester, from the Gateway Building reception in Southend and Hatfield House reception in Loughton. Please contact email@example.com if you wish to arrange for collection of additional masks.
Regular testing will no longer be recommended, and tests will only be provided by the University in exceptional cases or where a risk assessment by Occupational Health suggests that these are needed.
Standard sickness absence reporting, recording and sickness absence pay rules will be fully effective again from 3 May 2022. No paid special leave will be granted for those who test positive or have mild COVID symptoms, unless this is required by the government or other regulatory body, for example, in the nursery.
If you receive a positive COVID result, there is no legal requirement asking you to isolate but it is likely that you will be infectious to others. We are asking therefore that you avoid contact with others for five days after the day you took the test.
Staff and students who have a respiratory infection, a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or to study should stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they no longer have a temperature or feel unwell. This will help to reduce infection transmission on our campuses. When deciding whether you are fit for work or study, please be mindful of the potential impact of symptoms that create a significant transmission risk for other people. For staff, you may also be asked to go home if your manager’s view is that you are too unwell to be on campus.
If there are future COVID outbreaks in particular areas, the Occupational Health team may recommend additional infection control mitigations. These could include face coverings, testing and making additional recommendations for individuals depending on their circumstances. This is similar to arrangements we would put in place for any other public health and safety concern and would be based on an appropriate risk assessment and clinical advice.
We are also asking people to continue with frequent handwashing or using hand sanitiser where available (handwashing is a good basic infection control mechanism rather than preventing transmission of COVID). People who have mild cold or other symptoms may also wish to wear a mask.
The COVID inbox will remain open for the remainder of the Summer Term, and Heads of Department and Heads of Section should notify the inbox if they have absences in their area that they believe may constitute a COVID outbreak or new variant.
Individuals can also be referred to Occupational Health for a COVID referral, based on their personal circumstances, and individuals who have previously been referred can be referred back to firstname.lastname@example.org by their manager if needed. Line managers can contact email@example.com for advice about new OH referrals or any other staffing issues.
If you have a concern about a student, you can seek advice from the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here at Essex we are very proud that we have taken decisive and sometimes difficult decisions over the past two years; these have meant that our infection levels have remained low compared to national rates, helping us to keep our community safe. We recognise that COVID has not gone away, and that we will need to keep the public health measures on our campuses under regular review, including being willing to implement restrictions again if or where needed.
As we move back to Steady State we would like to thank everyone in our community for all of the work and actions that have been taken during the pandemic to keep our campuses safe. In some cases, this has involved significant commitment and personal hardship, and everyone has played an important role. It is really exciting to be able to see and meet everyone in person again, and to be able to reconnect as an on-campus community.
Director of People and Culture, University of Essex
Alix Langley joined Essex in September 2021 as the Director of People & Culture. People & Culture includes the Employee Relations and Reward team, Workplace Health & Safety and Wellbeing, Organisational Development and Inclusion, who deliver services to staff and students and are responsible for the People Supporting Strategy to 2025.