Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service | University of Oxford
A man walks up to a COVID-19 testing facility at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter in Oxford
The Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service pod at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter

Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service

Last updated 24 September 2020

The University’s in-house COVID-19 testing service is now open to all staff and students of the University and colleges, providing rapid access to free testing if they think they have coronavirus symptoms (minor or major).

The central testing site in the city centre was the first to open, and is located in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ). A second testing site has opened at the Old Road Campus in Headington, in time for the return of students to Oxford for the new academic year.

The Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS) is a free, customised service for staff and students of the University that will benefit the local community by reducing the risk of a further COVID-19 outbreak and reducing the pressure on NHS testing facilities. Designed specifically for a University environment, the service will ensure that anyone who becomes unwell is quickly identified, with a rapid response initiated to protect others from transmission. The service is aligned with NHS and PHE guidelines and uses proven technologies and standard NHS procedures.

The University continues to evaluate various future options for better and wider testing of staff and students for COVID-19.  We are constantly reviewing developments in government guidance, existing NHS/PHE facilities, local requirements and any new approved and appropriate tests as they become available. Professor Chris Conlon, Chair of the University’s Health Measures Advisory Group, has published a white paper on the University’s current approach to COVID testing. The paper includes an assessment of the COVID testing environment, an explanation of the 'Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS)' and of the alternative testing models and options which the University is keeping under review.


(Please note: SSO is required)

For enquiries related to booking a University test, please contact eas-enquiries@medsci.ox.ac.uk.

For students: So that the University’s COVID-19 Testing Service can contact you as quickly as possible, it is important that students’ mobile phone numbers are included in the Student Record. If you are a student, please log in to Student Self Service and check your mobile number in the 'my contacts information' section is up-to-date. You should also be registered with a local doctors' surgery, and ensure address and contact details are up-to-date on their systems.


Who is eligible to use the service?

Any student or member of staff at the collegiate University may use the service who has a University card and an SSO (Single Sign On) password.

**UPDATED** Can family members of staff and students use the University testing service?

The University testing service is available to all staff and students. At present, it is unable to provide testing for family members. While we will keep this under review should we be able to resolve legal and capacity issues, for now family members should continue to use NHS testing services.

Can I book a test if I don’t have symptoms but am worried I might be at risk?

The three main symptoms that NHS guidance asks you to look out for are high fever, a new continuous cough and loss of taste or smell. Most people with COVID-19 have at least one of these. However, you can also book a test if you are concerned about other symptoms which you feel might be associated with the virus. You should not book a test if you have no symptoms.

**UPDATED** Where is the testing service and how will I find it?

The central testing site is in the city centre at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) - postcode OX2 6GG. A second site is located at the Old Road Campus in Headington - postcode OX3 7LG. When you receive confirmation of booking, you will receive a site map showing you the precise location of the testing centre. If it's helpful, you can view images of the ROQ testing pod and the Old Road Campus testing pod. 'Early Alert Service' is marked clearly on the sides and door of the testing centres.

**UPDATED** How do I book a test?

Booking is done online at https://earlyalert.medsci.ox.ac.uk/. You will need to sign in using your SSO. You will need to complete a booking form, giving your personal details including NHS number, and confirm that you have symptoms that you feel could be due to COVID-19 infection. You will be given a choice of times and, if both testing centres are open, a choice of locations.

What if I want to cancel or change the time of a test?

You can cancel a test online. If you want to change the time, simply cancel and rebook.

Can I just turn up?

For safety reasons, and to manage demand, we ask that you use the online booking service. You will not be seen if you attend the testing sites without an appointment.

Do the testing centres have wheelchair access?

Yes, there is ramp access to both entry and exit doors and a bell to press for the door to be opened.

Do I have to wear a face covering?

Yes, please wear a face covering to protect others on your way to the testing centre.

How should I travel to the site?

The two University testing centres are pedestrian or bicycle access only. If you are too unwell to walk or travel by bicycle to the testing centre you should seek NHS help, either by contacting your own GP, phoning 111 or in an emergency phoning 999. You should not travel to a testing centre by public transport.

The NHS testing site at Oxford Parkway, which is not part of the University Early Alert Service, is accessible by car, and tests can be arranged online.

If you use the NHS service, please inform your department or college as appropriate of the test and of the result.

Why should I use this service and not the NHS?

The test we use is provided by the NHS. The main advantages of the University service are that: a) the swab will be done (or supervised, in the case of students, initially) by someone trained and experienced in swabbing, so the result may be more accurate; 2) your college/department will be informed about the result, so can take rapid action to support you and protect others when necessary. You may also find that we can offer you a more rapid and convenient appointment for testing.

Will I have to self-isolate if I book a test?

Yes, if you book a test it indicates that you are concerned that you may have COVID-19 and should self-isolate until you receive the result. If you have one of the three main symptoms of COVID-19 listed above (high fever, new continuous cough or loss of taste or smell), other members of your household should also self-isolate.

What happens at the testing centre?

Your mouth and nose will be swabbed. This is a bit unpleasant but you will be given an opportunity to discuss any concerns in advance, and the person conducting the swab will stop immediately if you raise your arm to indicate you are experiencing undue discomfort.

Students will be asked to self-swab initially. This will be under the careful supervision of a nurse or senior medical student.

Except in periods of very high demand for testing, after the swab you will have a consultation with a nurse or senior medical student. They will ask you about your exposure to proven cases of COVID-19, your current symptoms (giving you advice about what to do if your symptoms worsen), and advise you how to make a list of possible close contacts so you can be ready to give it to the public health team responsible for contact tracing if you test positive.

How long do I have to wait for the results?

We will make every effort to provide results within 24 hours of testing, although during periods of high demand or as a consequence of the swab testing machine breakdown/maintenance, results can be significantly delayed.

What happens if I test negative?

If you test negative, you will receive this result electronically. You can stop self-isolating except in four circumstances:

  1. You continue to have a high fever, cough and loss of smell – in which case you must continue to self-isolate following government guidelines (if you also have diarrhoea or vomiting, self-isolate for 48 hours after these symptoms have subsided).
  2. You have been instructed to self-isolate by Public Health England because you are a known contact of a proven case – in which case you must continue to do so until the end of the instructed period.
  3. You are in self-isolation because of government quarantine requirements on arrival from overseas – in which case you must continue to do so until the end of the instructed period. A negative test does not release you from these quarantine requirements as you could still be incubating the virus.
  4. You are at high risk of a false negative result because of the timing of your test (it was within five days of exposure to a proven case of COVID-19). You will need to continue to self-isolate and book another test.

Please notify your department (and college, if applicable) of this result at the earliest opportunity.

What happens if I test positive?

If you test positive, a clinician will telephone you. You and your household will need to continue to self-isolate. You will be contacted by Public Health England. We will also inform your college and/or department as appropriate, both to try to ensure that you have the support you need and to initiate a rapid response to minimise the risks to others.

So that the University’s COVID-19 Testing Service can contact students as quickly as possible, it is important that students’ mobile phone numbers are included in the Student Record. If you are a student, please log in to Student Self Service and check your mobile number in the ‘my contacts information’ section is up-to-date.

How accurate are the tests?

The test assays have high accuracy. Inaccuracy in the test result occurs because either: 1) the swab does not pick up the virus when present; or 2) despite having the illness, the virus is not present in your mouth/throat.

In the first week of symptoms, a well conducted swab will pick up the virus in only 75-80% of people who have become infected. However, the 20-25% of cases who do not have detectable virus in their mouth/throat are at less risk of transmitting it to others. Hence if you test negative (and don’t have continuing symptoms or haven’t already been instructed to self-isolate by Public Health England for other reasons) you will be able to stop self-isolating.

There is one other exception to this rule: when you attend for testing, if you have been in recent contact with a proven case we will ask you to book for a follow-up test after 48 hours. This is because tests are particularly inaccurate (because of low virus shedding) in the first five days after exposure to the virus – so we will need two tests to be sure it is safe for you to continue normal activity.

How does this service differ from track and trace?

The service is working in close partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and our local public health team. We will help them contain any outbreak by providing a point of liaison with colleges/departments. But if you test positive, the contact tracing itself will be undertaken by PHE, not the University Early Alert Service. We will provide advice (at the post-test consultation) to help you prepare a list of possible contacts to give to PHE if you test positive, but we will not collect any contact information from you ourselves.

*NEW* How does this work with the NHS COVID-19 app?

We encourage you to use the NHS COVID-19 app, which is available to download from Google Play and the Apple App Store. It includes a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. Public places such as shops, cafes and bars – as well as certain public parts of the University and Colleges will be required to display QR codes for you to check-in to venues. Non NHS app users will need to sign a register.

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 a book a test via the Early Alert Service.

What about privacy?

The booking form explains how the data you provide might be used. It also provides a link to a fuller privacy statement that you can read (please note: you will need to log in via SSO). We will inform your college/department as appropriate of the results of your test in order to help them provide you with support and to take immediate action to protect others if necessary. If you test positive, we are legally obliged to inform Public Health England. They will then contact you and seek your help in tracing contacts.

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