The SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) guidance Principles for Managing SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Associated with Higher Education was published on Friday evening [4 Sept 2020] (though dated to the previous day). It can be downloaded here. It is important, though disturbing reading. The Executive Summary gives a good indication:
There is a significant risk that Higher Education (HE) could amplify local and national transmission, and this requires national oversight. It is highly likely that there will be significant outbreaks associated with HE, and asymptomatic transmission may make these harder to detect. Outbreak response requires both local plans and coordinated national oversight and decision-making.
It is essential to develop clear strategies for testing and tracing, with effective support to enable isolation. Universities are good locations to pilot approaches such as population case detection (PCD). Enhanced testing in response to suspected outbreaks is likely to be beneficial in detecting and preventing ongoing transmission.
Safe provision of student education needs to be based on a hierarchy of risk. This includes reducing in-person interaction, segmentation of students and environmental controls, including mitigating aerosol transmission risk through ventilation and use of face coverings.
Accommodation and social interactions are likely to be a high-risk environment for transmission to occur. Strategies to mitigate transmission risk include segmentation of students to co-locate courses or year groups, and good communication on behaviour and hygiene in household and social environments.
There need to be specific strategies to consider the wider physical and mental health of students and staff, beyond COVID-19. This will include maximising the influenza vaccination programme to minimise co-infection risks and providing support to mental health programmes.
Communication strategies are a critical part of minimising transmission risks associated with HE. Guidance on how to behave is more likely to be adhered to if people understand the reasons they are asked to take certain actions, and if it is co- produced with the staff and students who will be affected by it.
There are news stories about it here –
Rebecca Speare-Cole, Significant outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to universities are highly likely, says Sage (Evening Standard)
Ian Sample and Richard Adams, Students returning at Christmas could seed new coronavirus outbreaks, scientists warn (The Guardian)
Not directly on this guidance, but Alexandra Topping, Class of 2021: how will you learn at university? (The Guardian) is worth a read.
And a recent editorial by Gavin Yarney, Covid-19: re-opening universities is high risk in the British Medical Journal is also important.
My previous list of pieces on universities is here; and a lot more on covid-19 can be found here – Geographers, sociologists, philosophers etc. on covid-19
I’ll update this with other relevant pieces.
Update 6 Sept: Sian Griffiths, Make universities Covid-safe or risk strikes, warns union (The Times – paywall)
Glen O’Hara, What’s really going on in Britain’s universities? (CAPX)
Update 8 Sept: Larissa Kennelly, Coronavirus: ‘I paid for my student house, now all my lectures are online’ (BBC News)
Update 9 Sept: Sally Brown, The first weeks may be critical for the 2020 cohort (WONKHE)
Rille Raaper, Chris Brown, Anna Llewellyn, The Sudden Dissolution of the University Campus: Where do students get support from? (The Post-Pandemic University)
Expendable Assets: Staff and Students in the Pandemic University (Punk Academic)
Liz Morrish, The Collapse of the COVID-secure Campus (Academic Irregularities)
Update 10 Sept: the Department for Education guidance is here