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Please read: a message from the VC

Today (September 28), the Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff to share more information about the status amongst our community in relation to Covid-19 and how staff will continue to be communicated with this term. You can read the full email below:

Dear all staff,
It’s now officially the start of term, which I’m sure will be like no other.
As a University, it will always be our priority to be open with you about issues affecting our community – and at this time, as we all are adapting our lives in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is more important now than ever. 
So, I wanted to write to you all today, to share more information with you about the status amongst our community in relation to Covid-19 and how we will continue to communicate with you this term.
Whilst the number of cases at Sussex is low, and in line with the local area, it is really important that you are able to stay informed about what we’re doing if the cases at Sussex rise, as well as making sure you understand our own processes.
I share more information on this below, so please read to the end.
Advice and guidance for staff coming onto campus:
First, I want to make sure that staff who are coming onto campus are fully aware of the guidance that has been shared over the past few weeks.  The main elements to this are watching the staff induction video, understanding where to report any Covid-19 symptoms and downloading the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app.  Pease read the return to campus guidance.

We’ve also had more than 3,500 staff and students support our Community Pledge.  Please add your name if you’ve not had chance to do so yet. 
Working with the local Health Protection Team (HPT):
The University is in direct contact with the Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Team (often referred to as HPT).  The Health Protection Team informs the University if any of our community has tested positive for Covid-19 (and by return we inform them of any that are notified to us directly).  The HPT might also give us advice if they consider that action needs to be taken, particularly if there is concern that a rise in cases is emerging.
What happens in the case of a positive test:
If a student or staff member does test positive, they will need to quarantine normally for ten days from the onset of symptoms.  You will be given the exact number of days to quarantine by the NHS – and of course it is critical that you do this.  In addition, all members of the household (or student accommodation) will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the onset of the infected person’s symptoms. The isolation period is longer than for the affected person because the incubation period can be up to 14 days.
Working with the HPT, the University will be able to assess the risk level for any positive cases, and determine what other measures may need to be taken.
If a staff member has been on campus in the days before becoming symptomatic, the University will liaise with the HPT to ascertain at the earliest opportunity the risk level and inform colleagues or students as necessary.
The number of positive cases at Sussex:
Here at Sussex, the number of cases we have had reported are low compared to other universities that have been the focus of media attention over the weekend. We do have confirmed reports of a small number (single digits) of cases amongst our community, with the majority of these people living off-campus.
I’m sure you appreciate that we need to protect the wellbeing of those people, so we won’t be sharing any more details of who they are. 
This means that as well as the students who are positive, all of their housemates are also now in self-isolation, as per the Government guidance.
Whilst we feel comforted that those people who do have Covid-19 are experiencing mild symptoms, it is a difficult time for them and we are offering them support.
I can assure you that we have taken every measure required of us to ensure our staff and students’ health and that of our community is protected and that the risk of transmission is minimised.
How we will continue to adapt and respond:
The level of positive cases in our campus community, whilst obviously concerning for their welfare and of others, is not at a level whereby it should change our current mode of blended learning for students.
However, if the number of cases rises to a point that we feel that we need to restrict movement around campus, such as reducing the number of indoor spaces where people mix (even with face coverings on) we will do that. 
We have a clear plan in place for a range of potential changes, which is in line with guidance from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Department for Education (DfE).
Please do understand we are not at that place.  However, we will of course move to that position if we are advised to do so by the authorities, or before then, if we feel that based upon the evidence, we need to do so.
Information on positive cases within the University community:
We have decided, in the interest of full transparency to provide you with details of confirmed positive cases amongst our community on a regular basis, on our website. This is to give you reassurance on our approach to openness, as well as to ensure that there is not misinformation about the number of cases.  We will soon let you know when this will be published and when you can expect to see updates.
To protect the welfare of our staff and students, we will not be sharing any further details on the identity of those who have tested positive, or the location of residences if they are on campus. 
Following all the guidance and rules:
Last week, we did have a small group of students breaching the Rule of Six law. We just can’t allow that to happen so we carried out a major exercise to make sure that they are aware of their obligations. This has made a big difference to the behaviour that we first saw.  We do have the ability to issue on the spot fines for those who show significant disregard to the health, safety and wellbeing of those around them.  These fines would start at £50 and I hope that we don’t need to use them.  I feel desperately sorry for students at this time, and being able to continue their education is our number one priority.  I don’t for one minute expect that not being able to socialise in large numbers is an easy thing for so many young people.  However, we’re looking at different options because we want to prevent students from making decisions that might cause them to break the law as well as potentially bring harm to those around them. 
Keeping in touch with you:
I will of course continue to write to you each week, and I’m also holding an Open Forum on 6 October – please book your place.  There will be an hour for open questions.
We will also continue to share updated guidance each week on any new measures being introduced or changes on campus.  Whilst our plans have been incredibly comprehensive, I’m sure there will be some changes we will need to take into account – and we’re ready to do that. 
A huge thank you to everyone right across the University who is working so hard to deliver learning to our students.  Whether you are doing this from home, teaching on campus, or delivering services in School offices and around the campus.  So many of you are working through the day and night to keep our students safe and supported, it’s an incredible effort.
With best wishes,
Vice Chancellor

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By: Charlie Littlejones
Last updated: Monday, 28 September 2020

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