COVID-19 Case Management Team: What we've learned so farFriday, 13 November 2020
At the start of term we established our COVID-19 Case Management Team, to provide advice and guidance to members of our University community who tested positive for the virus. They have been working closely with Public Health England (PHE) to support the NHS Test & Trace system and help identify people at the university who have come in to close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Who are the COVID-19 Case Management Team?
Under the leadership of Gurinder Singh, a lecturer in our School of Pharmacy and a practicing registered pharmacist, who previously volunteered for the national NHS testing scheme, the team is made up of 29 volunteer staff from more than 12 different teams across the University.
Edd Pickering, Head of Fundraising in Alumni & Supporter Engagement, is one of these volunteers and said:
"The reason I signed up for this work was that I've always believed if you feel something should be done then you should step up and do it. It's so easy to read the news currently, and feel down, sad, anxious and nervous, especially working in a sector very much in the thick of it. This work is a practical difference I can make to the fight against the pandemic. Yes it is tiring, and yes it is time-consuming, but it's helpful.
I've been really impressed with the rest of the team, and with the students I talk to. They are uniformly polite, keen to help and very aware of their responsibilities."
What does the team do?
As soon as we are notified of a positive COVID-19 test for a student or colleague, the Case Management Team will work with the person affected to give advice about when and for how long to self-isolate, based on government guidance, and how they can access support. They will also work with the individual to identify and make contact with their known close contacts at the University.
Any student who receives a positive test result is allocated a Case Officer to keep in touch with them and their household to support their self-isolation. The Case Management Team work closely with the Case Officers to ensure students have access to food and other essentials, as well as making sure they don't feel they're going through this on their own.
One of our students who had to self-isolate earlier this term said:
"At first we were all panicked, trying to email lecturers and book food delivery slots. However, as soon as we contacted the university we were offered a wide range of services to support us."
The colleagues who have volunteered are taking time away from their usual ‘day' jobs, providing support 7 days a week.
What do we know about the cases seen at the University so far?
In the first half of the autumn term (from 14 October, when tracing began, up to 2 November) there were 8 reported cases for staff and 170 for students.
Initial data analysis from the team shows that the COVID-19 infection is dominated by transmission between students through household and social contacts, which aligns with the government's findings.
As there are so many different circumstances relating to household and social transmission, it is difficult to extract data to analyse specific trends. We are continuing to refine our processes to hopefully be able to do this more accurately.
It has, however, been easier to analyse data on transmission in teaching and learning contexts. What we know so far is that of the 5,374 timetabled face-to-face classes which took place between 14 October and 2 November, 45 had an attendee who went on to develop symptoms within the next 48 hours and later tested positive for coronavirus. Students who were seated within 2 metres of the positive case were asked to self-isolate. One of these students later tested positive, although it could not be conclusively demonstrated that this was due to transmission in the classroom, because off-campus activities had not been accounted for.
Gurinder Singh, head of the COVID-19 Case Management Team, said:
"It was clear from an early stage that new cases were overwhelmingly linked with individuals living in the same household who had already tested positive. In almost all cases, individuals notifying us that they had tested positive were already self-isolating because someone in their household had already tested positive."
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Parveen Yaqoob, said:
"It's reassuring to see that face-to-face teaching does not present an identifiable risk and continues to provide the best environment possible so that our students can safely achieve their full potential.
We know that many students, their families, colleagues and members of the local community have been worried by reports of high numbers of cases of COVID-19 on university campuses around the country, and may be confused as to why universities, including Reading, are staying open during lockdown and continuing to teach students in person.
Our analysis suggests that the safety measures we have in place mitigate the risk of transmission in a teaching setting. Our Estates, Campus Services, Health & Safety and Technical Services teams have adapted buildings, classrooms and labs to provide a safe environment, which is regularly monitored, and students have helped enormously by following the guidance. Seating plans have been extremely helpful in facilitating contact tracing by the Case Management Team.
Thanks to the hard work by the Case Management Team, every single one of the 642 close contacts identified during the five-week period was contacted and asked to self-isolate, representing a 100% success rate."
Keeping safe from COVID-19
The Case Management Team will act on information as soon as they receive it - to contact individuals who have tested positive and follow up with close contacts within the University community. However, it is worth bearing in mind that before the team can do this, there will be some delay between an individual first displaying symptoms, then booking and taking a test, receiving their result and ultimately reporting it to the University.
So, while the team's role is critically important to the safety of our community, it is still very important that we all follow the basic safety guidance to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, wear a face covering when around others outside our household and maintain social distancing.
We have recently launched our COVID-19 support line, open 7 days a week. Students, colleagues and members of the local community can call 0118 214 7813 from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and 11am to 4pm at weekends if they have any queries.