Six steps to stay COVID-safe
Six steps to stay COVID-safe

Health

Last reviewed 6 December 2021

**NEW 1 December 2021** Updated COVID-19 guidance following government announcement

In response to increased government COVID-19 restrictions due to the Omicron variant, the University is introducing some changes to its health guidance.

From 1 December, face coverings are mandatory (unless individuals are exempt) in University libraries. They are also very strongly encouraged in museums, at meetings of more than 15 people, in lectures and classes, and when moving around buildings. They should also be worn in small group teaching such as tutorials, unless the group agrees otherwise. Please go to the face coverings page for full guidance.  

Christmas events can go ahead as planned. However, all attendees are strongly encouraged to take an LFD test before attending.

There will be no changes to teaching arrangements between now and the end of Michaelmas term, and there is no change to current guidance in relation to staff working on site or from home. Staff should continue to follow existing local working arrangements, as determined by departments. They should also continue to follow all existing health advice, including taking part in regular LFD testing twice a week.

This guidance is based on advice from the University’s Health Measures Advisory Group and will be reviewed again ahead of the University reopening after the Christmas vacation, and any changes will be communicated as early as possible.

**UPDATED 6 December 2021** Omicron cases at the University
We are aware of a number of cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 at the University. We are working closely with the public health authorities and following their advice.

The University has already implemented a number of changes to its health guidance in response to the omicron variant, based on advice from its clinical medics. There are no further changes to the University’s health guidance at this stage, or any additional actions that students or staff need to take.

We continue to encourage the whole community to follow all University and government health advice to reduce the risks of COVID-19; and will provide further information as it becomes available.

Self-isolation rules 

Self-isolation rules have been updated. All contacts of suspected Omicron cases contacted by the University’s Early Alert Service Results Liaison Team, NHS Test and Trace or local health protection teams must self-isolate as outlined by the government, regardless of their vaccination status. Self-isolation rules for close contacts of individuals contracting any other variant of COVID-19 remain unchanged. 

Our health campaign includes materials to reinforce these messages; the latest version of the health communications pack can be found on SharePoint (SSO required).

Stay well this winter: additional health guidance 

Stay well this winter. Your actions matter.

Coronavirus remains a serious health risk. As we head into the winter months and spend more time indoors, everyone needs to take individual responsibility for minimising risks to our community. 

  • Wear a face covering (unless exempt) in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.* 
  • Let fresh air in indoors: keeping windows and doors open increases ventilation and significantly reduces the spread of COVID-19. Please keep them open, particularly in areas which are poorly ventilated.*
  • Get your booster jab as soon as you’re eligible, and get a free flu jab if you can. 
  • Test regularly and get a PCR test and self-isolate if required. 

 *In University buildings, it will be clearly indicated where face coverings and/or additional ventilation is required.

It is important that everyone is considerate and follows health guidance. Even if you don’t feel at risk yourself, please respect others who feel more vulnerable.

Adhering to the guidance will also stop the spread of flu and other respiratory infections. This is particularly important this year because fewer people will have built up natural immunity during the pandemic; and because research shows that those who get flu and COVID-19 at the same time are more likely to become seriously ill.

Face coverings are mandatory (unless individuals are exempt) in University libraries. They are also very strongly encouraged in museums, at meetings of more than 15 people, in lectures and classes, and when moving around buildings. They should also be worn in small group teaching such as tutorials, unless the group agrees otherwise. Please go to the face coverings page for full guidance.  

Social distancing is no longer required. However, individuals are encouraged to be considerate of others’ space and remember that some people may wish to take a more cautious approach, either because of concerns for their own health or that of family members, or because of general anxiety. Residual mitigations may be required in less well-ventilated areas and could include continued distancing or use of face coverings. And you should wash your hands regularly with soap or sanitiser

All staff and students continue to be strongly advised to get fully vaccinated, and get their boosters, as soon as possible – to protect yourself and others – and to follow the government’s latest self-isolation rules. Those who are fully vaccinated may benefit from no longer being legally required to self-isolate when identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case (see details of who is exempt from self-isolation on the government website). Information about the COVID-19 vaccination and how to book appointments can be found on the NHS website.

Regular symptom-free testing continues to be strongly encouraged for all staff who are working on site and students whilst they are in Oxford. The University’s Early Alert Service continues to operate PCR testing for those who have symptoms or a positive LFD result, or who have been advised to take a test by Test and Trace. If you have symptoms or get a positive LFD result, you should self-isolate immediately and book a PCR test.

The University’s approach is informed by Oxford’s clinical academics and local and national guidance. We will respond to any changes in public health recommendations caused by the virus if and when they occur.

As a University community, along with wider society, it is clear that we must now learn to live with COVID-19. Although we have effective vaccines and high vaccination rates, and other public health measures such as Test and Trace, we should nonetheless expect some cases within our community. However, the link between infection and hospitalisation has been very significantly weakened so the impact of COVID-19 is dramatically reduced.

Important reminder: what to do if you feel unwell and/or think you may have COVID-19 symptoms

If you experience any COVID-19 symptoms you must immediately self-isolate and assume you have the virus, pending the result of a confirmatory PCR test, which you should book as soon as possible. You must take a PCR test (not an LFD test) if you have symptoms. You should wherever possible book the PCR test through the Early Alert Service, the results of which are usually available well within 24 hours (shorter than the usual wait through NHS testing services). Your household members should also self-isolate while you await the results of your test, unless they are exempt (see details of contacts who are not required to self-isolate on the government website).

If you have a respiratory infection which isn’t COVID-19, you should still take steps to reduce transmission. In particular you should: wash your hands often with warm water and soap; use a tissue to trap germs when you cough or sneeze; and bin used tissues as quickly as possible. If you are worried about being on site, you should discuss your options with your manager, supervisor or tutor as you usually would. You should also continue to follow the University’s wider health guidance as regards respecting other people’s space, and wearing face coverings where indicated.

This is particularly important this year, as research shows that those who get flu and COVID-19 at the same time are more likely to become seriously ill. Reducing the spread of respiratory infections will help to protect the health of the wider community.

The University is, through the NHS, providing Lateral Flow Devices for twice-weekly routine testing to identify infectious cases before any symptoms develop. If you develop symptoms between LFD tests, you must stop performing them, self-isolate, and have a PCR test instead. You must follow the guidelines and only stop self-isolating if you receive a negative PCR test (but note that if you’ve been told you must self-isolate because you are a close contact or because a member of your household is positive, you must continue to self-isolate regardless) – a negative LFD test result will not release you from self-isolation. For more information go to our PCR testing page.

How to report an external COVID-19 (positive or negative) PCR test result

If you use the University testing service your department and/or college will be informed of the result. If you book an NHS test instead, you MUST report your result, positive or negative, by using the Report a PCR Test button on the University Testing page. This is to ensure that you have the support you need and to initiate a rapid response to minimise the risks to others.

What to do if you have a positive Lateral Flow Device test result

If you test positive in any LFD tests (including those in community testing or received from the government via another route), you must self-isolate immediately and book a confirmatory PCR test, preferably through the Early Alert Service. You will receive further advice from the NHS and the University Results Liaison Team (RLT). You (and your household, unless they are exempt) should immediately self-isolate and assume you have the virus, pending the result of the confirmatory PCR test.

If you receive a PCR test result (positive, negative or void), through a route other than the University Early Alert service (eg via the national NHS service), you must report your result to the EAS.

If you receive your positive result notification while at the University you should only use public transport to return home if you have no other option. You should strictly follow the government’s safer travel guidance.

Because the tests do not pick up every case, you may still be infectious even if you receive a negative result, so it is essential that you continue to follow all COVID precautions.

When you need to self-isolate

Self-isolation rules have now been updated. All contacts of suspected Omicron cases contacted by EAS Results Liaison Team, NHS Test and Trace or local health protection teams must self-isolate as outlined by the government, regardless of their vaccination status.  Self-isolation rules for close contacts of individuals contracting any other variant of COVID-19 remain unchanged.

Please visit the NHS website for more information.

What to do if you’re a COVID-19 contact 

If you’re a contact of someone with COVID-19, you’ll need to self-isolate (unless you’re exempt). Even if you’re exempt, you’ll still need to get a PCR test within 5 days of finding out you’re a contact, and you’ll be strongly encouraged to take an LFD test twice a week.

Staff and students should follow all UK government guidance including the new requirement for contacts of suspected Omicron cases to self-isolate as outlined by the government, regardless of their vaccination status.

Notifying contacts (SSO required)

Containing the spread of the virus depends on responsible behaviour, and quickly notifying those who have been recent close contacts.

NHS Test and Trace

Formal contact tracing is carried out by NHS Test and Trace – whether you access testing through the University’s service or the NHS.

If your PCR test is positive, you will be asked to provide a list of recent close contacts for tracing purposes.

NHS Test and Trace may then notify those contacts either by phone or via the COVID-19 app that they need to self-isolate and/or book a PCR test. The name of the individual with COVID-19 will not be shared.

Telling your contacts directly will mean they get the information as fast as possible, but it will not be anonymous, as it would be via Test and Trace.

What do I do if I’m told I may be a close contact?

If NHS Test and Trace contacts you, you must follow their instructions carefully.

If you are notified by an individual you should consider whether you have been exposed to the virus, and refer to the government guidance for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

How do you define 'close contact'?

You are likely to be considered a ‘close contact’ of someone who has tested positive (and therefore at risk of infection) if:

  • You have had face-to-face contact (eg a close conversation or a hug); or
  • You have been within 1 metre, without face-to-face contact, for 1 minute or more; or
  • You have been less than 2 metres away from them for more than 15 minutes (over the course of a single day), particularly in an enclosed space,

AND

  • The contact occurred any time from the two days before they experienced COVID-19 symptoms onwards.

Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service

Visit the University’s Testing Service if:

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19; 
  • You have received a positive result from an LFD test; 
  • You have been advised that you are a close contact of, or are a member of the same household as, someone who has a PCR-confirmed case of COVID-19; or 
  • You are advised to do so by public health authorities as part of the formal response to an outbreak.

Rapid identification and isolation of positive cases is essential to slow the spread of the virus. 

If you receive a PCR test result (positive or negative) through a route other than the University's Early Alert Service (eg via the national NHS service), you must report your result by using the Report a Test button on the University's Testing page. If your result is positive, or you have been told you must self-isolate due to being a close contact (and do not meet the government criteria to be exempt from this rule), you must continue to self-isolate, and report your absence to your department and college. The information you provide will enable the University and/or your college to take any action that may be appropriate to protect our community, and to maintain a full picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 within the collegiate University.

Information about accessing COVID-19 vaccines

In line with government policy, we strongly encourage all staff and students to be fully vaccinated to protect their own health and the health of others. Those who are fully vaccinated may now also benefit from no longer being legally required to self-isolate when identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case (see full details of who is exempt from self-isolation on the government website).

Information about the COVID-19 vaccination and how to book appointments can be found on the NHS website. There are also details of local walk-in vaccination clinics on the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group website.

NHS COVID Pass

If you have been fully vaccinated in England, you can obtain the NHS COVID Pass and use this to demonstrate your coronavirus (COVID-19) status when travelling abroad and domestically at events and venues in England. Please refer to the UK government website for full details of how to get the NHS COVID Pass and what you can use it for.

Flu vaccine information

The flu vaccine is particularly important this year because fewer people will have built up natural immunity during the pandemic, and because research shows that those who get flu and COVID-19 at the same time are more likely to become seriously ill. Flu vaccines are given free on the NHS to people in a number of groups, including those with serious long-term health conditions and frontline health workers. Staff and students in these groups are encouraged to get a vaccine. You can find out if you are eligible for a free vaccine, and learn how to get one, on the NHS website.

NHS COVID-19 app

We encourage you to use the NHS COVID-19 app, which includes a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in.

Important: the app directs users to the NHS testing service. However, Oxford staff and students should always, where possible, use the University’s own testing service instead. You cannot use the NHS app to book a test at the University service. Instead you should visit the Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service pages to book a test.

Wellbeing

COVID-19 impacts the way we work, study and interact with one another. These changes are not always welcome and can lead to anxiety. These feelings can be more acute if you have a mental illness. If you have worries about COVID-19, the University has a number of varied resources available to help both staff and students. It’s important not to suffer in silence. If you’re a student, help and information can be found on our student welfare and wellbeing page. There are also online resources and guidance for staff.

Be responsible. Be considerate. Be safe.
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