Bath Time explains: New Uni plans on Christmas testing and travel

Photo by Mufid Majnun

Plans to open two mass testing centres, information on travel guidelines and deadline extension discussions were revealed in a Q&A with the University.

This afternoon, the SU facilitated a Q&A following announcements by government about mass coronavirus testing and the “student travel window”. Here’s what you need to know:

The University hopes to set up two centres, one on campus, and one on Dartmouth Avenue, Oldfield Park, to facilitate mass asymptomatic testing from 30th November to 23rd December, allowing students to travel home over the Christmas period aware of their “Covid status”.

Students wanting to take part would book two free tests, three days apart. So, if your plan was to travel home on a Friday, Stephen Baddeley explained you should book your first test for the Monday, second for the Thursday, and assuming both came back negative, you should leave on Friday. “Test, and go” was the message from Chief Operating Officer, Keith Zimmerman.

This announcement coincides with the latest guidelines from the UK government on a week-long “student travel window” from 3-9 December. 

The guidelines strongly recommend that where possible, students should travel within this time having had their two negative test results.

However, Zimmerman was keen to emphasise that the University has no powers to force students to leave during this period, nor any interest in doing so. 

He advised that students who have already booked travel home do not need to change their plans, and anticipated that there would be many students unable to leave within this week. 

He insisted that the student travel window is a recommendation, not legislation, and therefore “best endeavours and common sense is all that’s expected of each of us”.

Senior Management also emphasised that all such testing would be voluntary, not compulsory. All test results would remain confidential between NHS Test and Trace and the individual, although the University continues to encourage students to identify themselves if they do test positive, so they can be suitably supported.

However, whether this mass testing will actually happen depends on whether Bath is selected for the government’s national programme. 

This is determined on the basis of local case numbers. The University has indicated to the government that they are keen to take part, and they are confident that Bath should qualify for the national programme, however the confirmation on which Universities will participate is expected next week. If Bath isn’t selected to take part in the national scheme, the University said they will nonetheless establish their own equivalent service, but it wouldn’t be up and running until 2021.

The recording of the Q&A will be shared by the Students’ Union, and further announcements communicated in the coming weeks. Ahead of that, here’s a short summary of other topics discussed:

So, when does term end?

Tuesday 8th December will now be the final date of IPT in 2020, in light of the government’s student travel window, announced Pro-Vice Chancellor Peter Lambert. All other online teaching (LOIL, lectures etc.) will continue until 11th December as planned, and library services will remain open over the Christmas break. Peter Lambert was keen to emphasise that the University is not shutting down by any means, but has been told by government that face-to-face teaching must end on 8th December.

How would you book a test, and how much would it cost?

The University said they’re currently developing an online booking system, where you can select a time slot on dates which suit your requirements. They requested that for the first 9 days of testing (30th November – 8th December), only students travelling imminently should use the testing facility, but that after that date others could start to use the testing system to find out their status, even if not travelling. All tests will be free of charge.

How quickly would you get test results?

“Within 24 hours, and normally much quicker”, was Stephen Baddeley’s response.

What happens if you test positive?

The “student travel window” is such that if you test positive, you’d have sufficient time to complete the necessary isolation period in Bath and still be able to travel home in time for Christmas if you wanted to. Students have raised concerns about welfare and support for those who do test positive while friends have already left for the holidays, and the University emphasised their support including food deliveries for those self-isolating both on and off campus would remain in place over the holiday period.

What happens if someone in your house or flat tests positive?

If a housemate tests positive and you test negative you can safely travel, and should do so ASAP after your two negative tests, Keith Zimmerman explained. “Test, and go”. If a housemate is Covid positive and you don’t get a test done, you have to self-isolate for 14 days. However if you did the two tests three days apart, and both came back negative, you’d be safe to travel. “So, get a test”, was Keith’s message.

Will we get any rent refunds if we leave before the end of term?

In short, no. Jane Loveys, Director of AHS explained that University accommodation remains open for students who want to stay and that therefore there will be no rent reimbursements for students in University accommodation. She said the circumstances now are very different from in March, when students left Bath en masse and were refunded rent from University accommodation. As for the private sector, Loveys explained there’s very little the University can do in matters of contracts between students and private landlords.

Is the mass testing just for Christmas?

No. Senior Management said they hope this is just the start of mass asymptomatic testing which will continue throughout semester 2, allowing students to be tested weekly, know their status, and therefore hopefully begin to get life back to normal. They also mentioned that similar infrastructure is expected to be established across the country by the New Year, allowing students to have the same tests done at home before they travel back to Bath for semester 2.

What’s happening in Semester 2?

Peter Lambert was keen to insist that IPT will return in Semester 2. He said that barring any stricter local restrictions, IPT would continue as it has this semester, but perhaps in “different and more useful” ways, where student feedback has been identified. Cassie Wilson, Vice President for Student Experience, said all students coming back to study in person next semester would need to be back in Bath by the start of semester 2, on 1st February.

Will we get any safety net or no detriment policy this year?

This remains to be seen. Peter Lambert’s message was “we’ll be as supportive to students as we possibly can be”. He said we shouldn’t expect the same measures that were put in place for the exam period in semester 2 last academic year (such as the safety net), but that the University is working on creating “greater flexibility” for students, such as reducing the requirement for evidence when students request an extension. Lambert hinted that any such decisions could be approved at the University Senate meeting next week. Bath Time will follow the story and keep you updated.

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