UCU COVID Sub-committee report for 18/02/21
Angel Layer, the Policy and Projects Coordinator reported that from a total student population of around 11,000 students and staff, the number of active cases of COVID-19 at Roehampton as of 16 February 2021 are as follows:
· Students living on-campus: 12
· Students living off-campus: 1
1 with suspected symptoms
· Staff (off campus): 1
1 with suspected symptoms
UCU are somewhat sceptical that the figures are entirely accurate.
Asymptomatic Testing and Cases – update
Angel Layer reported that testing for Academic and Professional staff coming onto the campus was continuing to be consistent and regular. It was also reported by the Head of Health and Safety, Frances Coleman that information on testing for onsite contractors has now gone live on the website.
UCU and GMB have asked if the number of students indicated in the online information about COVID cases include partner students many of whom do not/cannot visit campus in ordinary circumstances? Do they have the same access to the reporting mechanisms, and do we have evidence that they are reporting to the university?
Chief Operating Officer, Tom Rowson has confirmed that all reports on case numbers refer to absolute numbers across the university (staff and students).
UCU and GMB have also asked for some comparative data regarding reported active cases in relation to the local/ national average. Also, is it possible that the university can provide a chart tracking them over time to show people how the measures taken are working? The university’s response was to direct staff to the Wandsworth Council web link for comparisons (see below). However, the university has also agreed to look at including the Wandsworth link in COVID case report information uploaded on the website and in Staff News.
UCU and GMB are now receiving regular updates on reported cases on off campus amongst students and staff.
EIAs – update
HR representative, Karen Chapman updated the group on the current ‘live’ version of the Safe Return to Campus and Working from Home EIAs. These documents have not been recently updated as of 11 February 2021.
We remain concerned about the Equality Impact Assessment system at Roehampton. The initial drafts of these as they relate to COVID were in a poor state, however with some encouragement and considerable work by various colleagues these have significantly improved. The issue remains that in a changing COVID environment the need to keep the COVID related EIA must be ongoing.
Ventilation – update
T Squared are engaged in maintenance, survey etc. Certification to carry out COVID-related work is not mentioned by PPC and not obvious on T Squared website. UCU and GMB have asked that if they are following guidance from a chartered organisation such as this one for building services https://www.cibse.org/coronavirus-covid-19/emerging-from-lockdown#1 Why not advertise the fact? CEO, Mike Hall has said he will investigate this and seek to provide confirmation of the credentials of T Squared and demonstrate the process by which they are being monitored by outside agencies.
Re windows and airflow
UCU and GMB have requested more information about the necessity of having fresh air flowing in even when it is cold. That windows can open has been surveyed but are they being opened?
There is advice at link below and CE CO2 monitors recommended for certain situations where people can identify themselves if the air quality is poor and open windows, doors as needed. https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/equipment-and-machinery/air-conditioning-and-ventilation.htm#balancing
UCU and GMB have asked whether portable CO2 monitors for shared office space could be installed?
Frances Coleman reiterated the need for all staff to consult with their Line Managers and comply with the safety checklist and undertake a Risk Assessment before coming onto the campus. Monitoring of air quality in specific buildings would be considered as lockdown regulations are relaxed and more staff are likely to be attending on campus. The priority must be rigorously following the guidelines and limiting access to campus at this time unless there is an absolute need.
The SA Variant
The subcommittee noted the impact of the surge testing areas on risk assessments. It was further noted that the manager’s checklist should provide a checkpoint, however the government rules were clear on affected postcodes and that staff must follow these regulations. The university has stated the following-
‘From 2 February 2021 until further notice, staff members and visitors who are currently resident in the following postcodes should not visit campus for any reason.
The areas are:
· CR4: Pollards Hill
· N17: Tottenham Hale
· W7/W13: Hanwell and West Ealing
· ME15: Mid-Kent area
· WS2: Walsall area
· GU21: Goldsworth Park, St Johns and Knaphill
· EN10: Broxbourne
· PR9: Southport
We will be writing to all staff members with a home address in these areas to inform them of this. This is a precautionary measure that will be kept under re-view whilst we await further guidance. If you are expected to be on-campus to perform an essential role, please contact your line manager in the first in-stance.
We will also be asking students who live in these areas to not attend campus for any reason. (UCU are not clear how management are monitoring this and have requested more information)
Why have we taken this action?
The UK Government has moved quickly to introduce ‘surge testing’ in response to small community outbreaks of the South African variant of Covid-19.
This decision has been taken in response to advice to individuals who live in these areas to limit all social contacts and consider any reasons at all for leaving their homes.
We anticipate further information will be made available soon as we will up-date staff and students as we get more information.’
It would be helpful if members who are coming onto the campus, could identify any areas of concern and report these to UCU Health and Safety reps, Mark Riley and Patrick Brady via the UCU email address: email@example.com
Return to Campus – update
As noted, in the previous report, on Tuesday 19 January 2021, The Guardian outlined research that shows quite how dangerous it is to meet indoors (see link below). Aerosol droplets spread far and fast and hang around for a long time. UCU and GMB have proposed that the university reviews the policies on use of rooms on campus. For example, when the campus reopens, there will need to be a much longer changeover between classes and rooms will need to be locked to ensure that they are not used in the meantime, especially in colder weather. This has implications for keeping the library open as well as for teaching and reinforces UCU and GMB’s suggestion that even if lockdown is lifted in February, teaching should remain online for at least this rest of the spring term if not the whole academic year.
Compulsory use of masks in all places (inside and outside) and at all times, would also help as would increasing ventilation to ensure air is replaced at least 5 times / hour. However, it is noted that neither of these precautions cuts the risk down to acceptable level.
As noted, the university has agreed to investigate this and report back to UCU and GMB.
CEO, Tom Rowson has reported that the university will review its return to campus strategy after the government announcement on 22 February 2021. This will be discussed in detail with UCU and GMB at the next meeting on Wednesday 24 February and followed up at the COVID Sub-committee on Thursday 25 February. UCU will report back after these meetings have taken place.
UCU received complaints about the tone and content (or lack of) of furlough letter and have raised these concerns with the university. We are awaiting a response.
Following reports that administrative staff in their respective schools/depts will now be dealing with the majority of Mit Circs requests from students, GMB have raised concerns about this addition to professional staff’s workloads and responsibilities. The university has agreed to review this as a matter of urgency and establish a uniform and transparent procedure.
CEO, Tom Rowson has stated that the university has now introduced a tariff of fines (£50-£250) for students following several reported issues with on campus behaviour in recent weeks.
Students will also be expected to provide a negative COVID test result prior to accessing any of the on-campus facilities such as the library or catering outlets.