The Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service pod at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. Be responsible. Be considerate. Be safe.
The Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service pod at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter

PCR testing 

Last reviewed 1 December 2021

The University’s in-house COVID-19 testing service is open to all staff and students of the University and colleges, providing rapid access to free testing for those with coronavirus symptoms; or who have received a positive Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test result; or who have been advised they are a close contact of, or a member of the same household as, someone who has a PCR-confirmed case of COVID-19.

Colds, flu and coronavirus can have similar symptoms. (This BBC article on ‘Covid symptoms: Is it a cold or coronavirus?’ may be useful in understanding the difference.) Some people with the Delta variant may experience symptoms similar to those of a bad cold (sore throat, headache, runny nose) with a mild fever (for further information, see this BBC article on symptoms linked with the Delta variant). If you think you may have COVID, you should book a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test.

It is still possible to get COVID even if fully vaccinated, so everyone should be alert to this and get tested if concerned. 

If you are looking for information about Lateral Flow Device (LFD) testing, please see our symptom-free testing page.

Where to find our sites

The central testing site is in the city centre, located in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ). The service is aligned with NHS and PHE guidelines and uses proven technologies and standard NHS procedures.

Book a PCR test    Report a PCR test 

(Please note: SSO is required)

For enquiries related to booking a University test, please contact eas-enquiries@medsci.ox.ac.uk. You may also call 01865 (6)19119 between 10am and 2pm Mon-Fri, including to book a test if you are struggling to use your SSO (and you have a Staff or Student University Card).  Please note that only the person seeking the test should call.  The Early Alert Service cannot allow booking for others.

**NEW 1 December 2021** COVID-19 guidance following 27 November 2021 government announcement
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. The University’s wider health advice continues to apply, and you should follow all UK Government and University guidance.  You should also note that the NHS is working on plans to offer booster vaccine doses to a wider group of people in the near future. Further information about boosters is available on the NHS website.

Important information for those booking a test

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 a 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. 

Reporting external results

If you (staff or student) receive a test result, positive or negative, through a route other than the University Early Alert service (eg via the national NHS service), you must report your result by using the Report a Test button on this page. If positive, you should 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. 

Students: adding mobile numbers

So that Test and Trace 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. These are not requirements to access the service.

When to book a test

Book a test if you experience symptoms of COVID-19. The main symptoms are high temperature, a new continuous cough, or loss of taste or smell. Some people with the Delta variant, however, may experience symptoms similar to those of a bad cold (sore throat, headache, runny nose) with a mild fever.

Please do not book a test unless you:

  • have symptoms, OR
  • have received a positive Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test result, OR
  • have been advised you are a close contact of, or a member of the same household as, someone who has a PCR-confirmed case of COVID-19, OR
  • have been instructed to book a test by public health authorities. 

If negative 

You may return to your normal way of life as long as you are not self-isolating due to close contact or quarantine (in which case you must complete the 10 days regardless). Your department and college will be notified of the result; but please inform them if you still need to self- isolate.

If positive

You and your department and/or college will be informed by email. You should continue to self-isolate, and public health staff will contact you to initiate the track and trace process. Your household members should book a PCR test and must also self-isolate unless they are exempt.

FAQs

About the Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service

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 with suspected COVID-19 is quickly identified, with a rapid response initiated to protect others from transmission. 

The University continues to evaluate various future options for better and wider testing of staff and students for COVID-19.  It is 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.

Who is eligible to use the service?

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

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 the main COVID-19 symptoms but I'm feeling unwell?

The three main symptoms that NHS guidance asks you to look out for are high temperature, a new continuous cough and loss of taste or smell. Previously, most people with COVID-19 have had at least one of these. Some people with the newer Delta variant, however, may experience symptoms similar to those of a bad cold (sore throat, headache, runny nose) with a mild fever. If you think you may have COVID, you should book a PCR test.

Colds, flu and coronavirus can have similar symptoms. This BBC article on ‘Covid symptoms: Is it a cold or coronavirus?’ may be useful in understanding the difference; or see this BBC article on symptoms linked with the Delta variant.

If you’re feeling unwell and living alone, make sure you have informed people who can check on you and offer support. You may of course have another illness that requires medical care, so please do not suffer in isolation if you’re feeling seriously unwell. Seek medical advice if your symptoms worsen.

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. However, this is not currently in operation. 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.

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. You will be given a choice of times and, if both testing centres are open, a choice of locations.

What if I can’t use my Single Sign on (SSO) to book a test?

Common reasons for this are:

  • You have completed your studies so are not eligible to use the University’s Testing Service. If you are feeling unwell with COVID-19 symptoms then you should book your test with the NHS.
  • You have not activated your SSO either because you are new to Oxford University or your job role hasn’t required IT use. You can get help activating your SSO from your own college’s or department’s IT Support Staff or from the service desk at IT Services on 01865 (6)12345.

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. When attending your test, please make every effort to be on time, as late arrivals can seriously disrupt the service. 

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, and report your result online to the Early Alert Service.

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; b) 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.

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. 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, any 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. Please email eas-enquiries@medsci.ox.ac.uk if you have not received your result within 48 hours. 

Can you send my test results elsewhere (eg to a different email address)?

In line with patient confidentiality, we can only give medical test results to the University email address or to the phone number registered on our system. 

What happens if I test negative?

If you have been self-isolating and test negative, you can stop self-isolating except in three circumstances:

  1. You continue to have a high temperature – 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 because you are a known contact of a proven case (and you do not meet the criteria for exemption from self-isolation) – 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.
  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. As above, a negative test does not release you from these quarantine requirements, as you could still be incubating the virus.

Your department (and college, if applicable) will be notified of the result, but please inform them if you still need to self-isolate. 

What happens if I test positive?

If the result is positive, the Results Liaison Team will notify your department and/or college. At this point your household will also need to self-isolate (unless they are exempt) and should also book a PCR test. You should follow these steps:

  • Self-isolate: you and your household should follow government self-isolation guidelines, and should always self-isolate for longer if your temperature has not returned to normal.
  • Contact tracing: public health staff will contact you to initiate contact tracing. Please be as helpful as possible, as a rapid response helps to minimise risks to others. You are also strongly encouraged to alert any recent close contacts directly yourself (or via your college or department).

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 90% of people who are infected. However, the small number 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.

How do you define 'recent close contact'?

You are likely to be considered a 'recent 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); 

  • You have been within one metre, without face-to-face contact, for one minute or more; or

  • You have been less than two metres away from them for more than 15 minutes over the course of a single day, particularly in an enclosed space (the 15 minutes test applies to cumulative exposure, not just to individual events); AND

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

If I need to travel internationally, can I use the Oxford COVID-19 test as proof that I am negative for the virus?

If you’re travelling to or from the UK, you’ll need to get tested for COVID-19. Please note that you cannot use the University’s Testing Service to provide proof of a negative PCR test for international travel purposes.

The University’s Early Alert Service uses NHS services and is not available for any purpose other than the testing of people with COVID-19 symptoms, or as a way of managing an outbreak. If you need to have proof of a negative test for international travel you will need to take a test through a private provider. Please be aware that COVID-19 entry requirements vary from country to country, and individuals may wish to contact their airline or travel agent for further information before arranging a test. You can also learn about different testing requirements for international travel on the UK government website.

Staff and students are free to use any of the government-approved providers to arrange COVID-19 testing when travelling abroad and returning to England. However, in response to feedback on various providers, the University has undertaken some due diligence checks and is able to suggest the following options. It should be noted that this is a new and growing market, and all providers may experience capacity issues, leading to challenges with achieving advertised response times and service levels. Pricing is also subject to frequent change.

In many cases a postal service may be most convenient, and Biograd Diagnostics are a suggested provider. For current pricing and to book – follow the instructions on the BioGrad Diagnostics website, or contact them by email at info@biograd.co.uk, or phone on 03455 651725.

For in-person testing in Oxford, the suggested provider is ExpressTest, who have a test centre in the Westgate Shopping Centre. For current pricing and to book – follow the instructions on the ExpressTest website, or contact them by phone on 0203 384 0000.  

Tests should be arranged and paid for personally, with the usual processes applicable for reimbursing expenses incurred in relation to University business where appropriate.

What should I do if I haven’t received a COVID-19 test result from the ‘test and release’ scheme?  

If you have selected to use the government’s test and release scheme and your testing provider has been unable to provide you with a test result then please contact the University’s Early Alert Service on eas-enquiries@medsci.ox.ac.uk – they will be able to advise you on the appropriate next steps to take.  

What happens if my UK visa expires before my self-isolation period ends?

If you have been advised to self-isolate and the isolation period is longer that your UK visa end date, then contact the staff immigration or student immigration team for advice on what steps to take. 

How does this service differ from Test 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.

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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