Students ‘strongly encouraged’ to take COVID-19 tests twice a week in Trinity term
Tests are voluntary, but students are being encouraged to take the tests to keep the university safe.
Martin Williams, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, wrote in an email to students this morning that, “If you’re in Oxford, you are expected to get tested for COVID-19 when you return (or at the start of term if you didn’t leave during the vacation). Your college will provide you with two Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests to take yourself.
“After these initial tests, you should then get tested twice a week every week via the new symptom-free testing centres. The centres will be in easy-to-access sites around Oxford, and they will follow strict safety measures.”
This guidance was also circulated to students through individual colleges. The new rules come as part of a wider policy announcement from the university following the government announcement on Tuesday that all non-practical courses may resume teaching on 17th May at the earliest.
As part of a wider nationwide self-testing programme, the government has instructed all universities to offer a programme of Assisted LFD testing, wherein students arrive, swab themselves, and leave the site within 5 minutes. After this, the result of the LFD test will be communicated confidentially to the student within a few hours. Naturally, a positive test result will mandate immediate self-isolation and contact tracing and should be confirmed by booking an EAS PCR test.
The symptom-free testing centres located on the St. Luke’s Chapel (Radcliffe Observatory Quarter) and University Club (Mansfield Rd.) sites have been open since 12th April. The Richard Doll Building site on the Old Road Campus will be operational soon after. Students can book a free test at any location that suits them, between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. Symptom-free testing can be booked up to two weeks in advance using your Single Sign-On, via the following webpage: https://www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus/health/covid-testing/regular-testing.
Though symptom-free testing is voluntary, students, and staff, are “strongly encouraged” to participate in the programme, once they return to Oxford: this includes those who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations. Students are advised not to take these tests if they have symptoms of COVID-19, been advised to self-isolate, or had a positive PCR test in the last 90 days.
Alongside the self-testing, the university remains keen to emphasise the need for continued respect for social distancing measures, following all aspects of the Student Responsibility Agreement. The webpage also highlights the government’s introduction of an £800 fine for those who attend house parties in student accommodation.
Due to the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, widespread use of LFD testing ought to reduce the spread of the virus. It is currently estimated that around 30% of those infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, so alerting these students to their positive status as soon as possible should reduce the infection rate among the student body.
Some universities had already implemented regular symptom-free testing before the introduction of new government guidelines. The University of Cambridge implemented their Pooled Screening Programme which aimed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The University of Southampton also introduced regular saliva tests as part of a DHSC-funded pilot programme in the city, which proved regular testing was a viable way to control the infection rate within education settings.
Students hope that regular testing will aid in the easing of restrictions, as well as making the university environment feel safer upon their return to Oxford. The uptake of the programme and its success remains to be seen, but the university remains optimistic that it will be a valuable tool in containing the virus among the student population.