Covid-19 Contingency Plan

This plan replaces the previous Outbreak Management Plan, and summarises our approach to managing Covid-19 infection at Keele.

Page updated: 23 September 2021

The change in approach from September 2020

The key differences in operating context between our approach in 2020 and the start of the academic year in 2021 include:

  • Endemic (and possibly high) levels of infection
  • Emphasis on managing infection levels, rather than outbreak management
  • A return to as close to normal levels of operation as possible
  • The success of the vaccination programme in reducing incidence of serious illness/death
  • Removal of legal restrictions for those who have had two doses of vaccine
  • Clearer understanding of higher/lower risk infection environments/activities

The details of how we propose to commence operations at the start of term have been provided to all staff and students and include:

  • Maintained use of face coverings in educational settings
  • Maintained testing regimes
  • In a majority of educational settings, maintained ability to socially-distance at 1m or more
  • Additional risk assessments and mitigations for higher levels of occupancy in educational settings.

The changed context and operational approach may provide a new scenario not yet experienced to date, including:

  • High levels of infection in our student and staff body, mirroring that in the wider community
  • Ensuring activities don't accelerate infection levels, rather than 'outbreak' management
  • Significantly reduced risks of infection resulting in serious illness and/or death
  • The greater potential for educational settings to be a potential new source of transmission
  • Reduced disruption due to changes in close contact self-isolation as a result of vaccine status

A key priority in the first few weeks of terms will be close surveillance on the potential for educational settings to begin to be the source of infection transmission. We will not define an absolute threshold for this - given the range, locations and diversity of educational settings in place. Accelerating levels of infection which are considered to be a result of transmission in an educational setting and the response to them (both in the short term and longer term changes in operation) will be considered by SILVER and where required, GOLD team.

The Components of our Approach

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, the University has operated a staff and student notification system to alert the University to potential Covid-19 infection within our community. At Operational Level 2 this notification process will continue and form the basis of daily surveillance of infection levels on campus. A communications campaigns to ensure that staff and students are aware of their responsibilities to use this notification system will continue to be deployed across campus.

The University’s Covid Response Team (BRONZE Team) continue to act as the first line of our management response via the collection of all information relating to confirmed infections in staff and students. This provides the initial management response to: (i) notifying individuals; (ii) wider University services; and (iii) incoming requests from local health protection teams and NHS e.g. notification of positive tests and requests for support to track and trace. The CRT provide the Bronze level management response group.

The second level management response to surveillance indicating accelerating levels of infection will be overseen by an established Professional Services Group (SILVER Team), chaired by the Chief Operating Officer. This group includes the Director of Student Services & Success, Health & Safety Manager and Director of Estates & Development. This provides the Silver level management response group and is scheduled to meet twice a week.

This group will continue to report to the VC Advisory Group (GOLD Team) which has and continues to meet three-times a week. The VC Advisory group consists of the VC, Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Provost, Chief Operating Officer, Director of Human Resources and Director of Finance. This group will continue to provide the Gold level management response.

Our Information & Digital Services team have developed a dedicated information system to support the work of the CRT. This system draws together key information on student and staff activity on campus, including: attendance at teaching sessions; use of sports, catering and Library facilities; accommodation contacts (for on campus student residents); Safezone data; and facilities access using the Keele card (including payment for services and checking in to a range of University areas). The University also continues to promote the NHS Track and Trace App.

We have had engaged successfully with our local health protection teams for over 18 months with regard to our management of infection levels on campus. A meeting on Thursday 9th September 2021 with the local health protection team introduced our approach to contingency planning outlined here. The meeting covered: operational plans for the campus and the mitigation arrangements we have put in place to prevent transmission; the continued use of our 5 levels of operation; the organisation-level data requirements and information gathering in place for test and trace; and the use of scenarios to test the resilience of plans.

The NHS PCR covid test facility on-campus closed in August 2021. The nearest Local Testing Centre remains in place in Newcastle-under-Lyme and postal tests for PCR-based testing are operating successfully from campus. LFD test kits are available on-line, from pharmacies and via an LFD-collect service which will provide access to test kits from a number of campus locations from the start of term. At the time of writing, DfE guidance on testing requirements remains to be issued.

Our Strategic Communications & Brand team continue to develop and deliver a comprehensive communications strategy and campaigns for the campus. The campaign ensures that there is a consistency of message, aligning PHE messaging to the University campaign. We have taken the approach to simplify messages as far as possible and are providing bespoke communications across a range of platforms for all identified user-groups. We have established procedures in place to publish details of Covid cases at Keele in a transparent and open way via our website, and our 24/7 365 crisis communications service is in place to deal with any media enquiries/coverage as a result of confirmed cases at Keele.

Using our 5 stage levels of operation framework, which was established on the basis of experiencing the transition into lockdown, the University is well-prepared for a transition between levels of operation across our education, research and operational delivery. The framework is suitable to be adopted locally to establish, where required, varying levels of operation on the basis of local HPT requirements (for example one Hall of Residence or Faculty or School may be required for a period to operate at one level, with others continuing at another, depending on the scale and nature of any significantly accelerating infection rates) and where necessary, the whole institution can transition between levels as required. We continue to work hard to ensure these plans are fully operational before the start of term.

The University is making clear its expectation that all students and staff who can, should have or be in the process of accessing the national vaccine programme. At the time of writing all students (including those joining Keele in September) are being surveyed to assess vaccine status. Early responses suggest very high rates of uptake of both doses of a vaccine (far higher than the uptake being reported nationally for the age group). The survey is anonymous and collects information on received and planned doses of vaccination, the name of any vaccinations received to date and planned appointments for first and second doses. Information on their level and year of study is also collected alongside an indication of whether the student was required by the NHS to shield in 2020. This information aims to inform the overall level of vaccine uptake (which we have no reason to believe will be below that reported nationally, and anecdotally is likely to be higher) and to plan for any remaining need to provide ‘pop-up’ vaccination clinics at the start of term.

The Operational Approach

  • In the event of a suspected COVID-19 case, where a student displays symptoms or is confirmed positive for COVID-19, or where a staff member has a confirmed positive test for COVID-19, initial notification should be made by completing the online notification form which records their details and initiates the internal management response (see below).
  • If the staff or student is concerned about their symptoms, then they should contact NHS 111 or use the online NHS 111 service here: https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19/
  • If the staff or student requires immediate medical attention, they should firstly call 999 and if possible then call Security (33004) and notify of the 999 call so that Security can assist the arrival of an ambulance if required.
  • Additional assistance or guidance between the hours of 9.00am and 5.00pm Monday – Friday is available from the Covid Response Team: 01782 738999 and covid.response@keele.ac.uk
  • Outside of these hours the institutions established bronze, silver and gold on-call procedures apply. These are not the same as those described in this plan.
  • Suspected or confirmed cases numbers will be made available for information only to Gold, Silver and Bronze Teams via the online dashboard
  • Based on monitoring notifications, the CRT will specifically report any early concerns of linked cases (and any suggestion of acceleration in levels of infection) for action to SILVER Team.
  • Student will be provided with advice from CRT on how to get a test using standard message template
  • If not already completed, student will be asked to complete notification form
  • CRT will instruct student to self-isolate until PCR result is confirmed
  • CRT will instruct student not to return home via standard message template
  • CRT will notify Student Services via Tableau online log who will prioritise vulnerable students
  • CRT will notify School Office (for information only) via Tableau online log
  • How to access isolation support services (e.g. arrangements for food delivery, specific support requirements) will be provided by CRT in the form of web-based information via standard message template
  • CRT will seek test result from student via standard message template
  • For the initial period of this plan's implementation, CRT will not contact any identified close contact without escalation to SILVER team
  • Any notification of confirmed cases to and from the local Health Protection Team will be made via the CRT.
  • If negative result, CRT to instruct that requirement to self-isolate ends via standard message template
  • Student instructed to self-isolate for 10 days by CRT via standard message template
  • CRT will instruct student not to return home via standard message template
  • Household (if on campus) instructed to self-isolate for 10 days or to take a PCR test if exempt from isolation (due to vaccine status)
  • If off campus, student advised by CRT to tell household to self-isolate for 10 days or to take a PCR test if exempt from isolation (due to vaccine status)
  • CRT will notify Student Services who will prioritise vulnerable students via Tableau online log
  • CRT will notify Strategic Communications and Brand team who will update website as appropriate, handle any subsequent press enquiries, and monitor social media
  • How to access isolation support services (e.g. food delivery, specific support requirements) will be provided by CRT in the form of web-based information via standard message template
  • CRT will notify School Office (for information only) via Tableau online log
  • For 2 or more cases in one educational setting, CRT will notify Estates & Development to arrange deep clean of any specific areas. For single cases it is expected that Covid-19 cleaning risk assessment will cover.
  • CRT provide high risk close contact information to SILVER Team for (potential) action
  • CRT report early warning of accelerating levels of infection to SILVER Team
  • CRT respond to any Track/Trace request from NHS Track and Trace or Staffordshire HPT
  • GOLD Team notified for action if operations found to be accelerating infection levels
  • Staff member instructed to self-isolate and arrange a test via standard message template 
  • If negative result, CRT to instruct staff member that requirement to self-isolate ends via standard message template 
  • Staff member asked to complete notification form by CRT
  • Instruction will be given by CRT to member of staff to self-isolate for 10 days via standard message template
  • Instruction will be given by CRT to advise their household to self-isolate for 10 days or take a PCR test if exempt from isolation (due to vaccine status) via standard message template
  • CRT will instruct staff member to notify line manager/work area via standard message template
  • CRT will commence analysis of work-based close contacts
  • CRT report case (for information) to SILVER Team
  • CRT provide high risk close contact information to SILVER Team for action
  • CRT provide concerns of potential of accelerating infection levels to SILVER Team for action
  • CRT will notify Strategic Communications and Brand team who will update website as appropriate, handle any subsequent press enquiries, and monitor social media
  • CRT respond to any Track/Trace request from NHS Track and Trace and Staffordshire HPT
  • GOLD Team notified if acceleration of infections as a result of operations is validated
  • CRT will notify Estates & Development to arrange deep clean of any specific areas
  • CRT notify SILVER Team for action
  • Contact to Health Protection Team (HPT) if required actioned by CRT Manager
  • GOLD Team notified by SILVER team of suspected issue
  • Initial response plan developed by SILVER Team and HPT (if engaged)
  • SILVER Team refers decisions relating to major change in operations to GOLD
  • SILVER Team deliver planned internal and external communication