Dear Colleagues and Students,
I am writing to let you know about some significant new measures we have put in place to ensure your safety, as we prepare for the start of our new semester on 14 September.
When you return to or arrive in St Andrews, you will see that a great deal of work has taken place over the summer to present prominent signage, guidance and instruction on how to stay safe and minimise the risks of transmission of Covid-19.
We have endeavoured to make this guidance as simple, visible and as intuitive as possible for everyone in our community. I hope that the signage and on-campus guidance will be sufficient for most of us, but should you require it, detailed guidance on the safe use of buildings is available to all staff and students here.
Masks and the Covid Code
We have published an eight-point Covid Code for students and staff, which sets out clear expectations about mask-wearing, physical distancing, self-isolation and respecting public health guidance. Every student and member of staff will receive a copy of the Code, which I append to the foot of this message.
You will see that at the heart of the Code is an instruction that students and staff should wear a face covering or mask when indoors whenever you are in company beyond your own household, and always when instructed to do so.
I acknowledge that this is at the strictest end of interpretation of Scottish Government guidance, and that it may feel strange or difficult for some of you to begin with. Wearing a mask will not only prevent the spread of Covid however, it will become a very visible sign of our individual respect for each other in St Andrews.
There will be some occasions when it is simply neither possible nor advisable to wear a mask, and I would ask that common sense prevails, and that any divergence from this instruction is by mutual consent and after reasoned discussion. Wearing a mask however should be our default.
Rapid Response Team and Covid Saints
We have established a new Covid Rapid Response Team to support students, or staff, who require to quarantine or self-isolate. This team will also be our primary interface with colleagues in the NHS, and will facilitate rapid testing and contact-tracing if required. It is led by Dr Chris Lusk, formerly Director of Student Services, and will work alongside our existing Covid Helpdesk, with which many of you are already familiar.
We are recruiting our own team of Covid Saints – student ambassadors whom you will see out and about and are there to offer you clear advice, guidance, masks and assistance if required.
I am pleased to say that after proactive discussions with the Scottish Government, the NHS, Fife Council and the University have agreed to establish a Walk-In Testing Centre for symptomatic cases in St Andrews, the first of 11 such centres to be rolled out across Scotland. It will be sited in the Victory Memorial Hall in St Mary’s Place, opposite the Students’ Association, and is due to begin operations from 2 pm today.
We are amongst the first to register with the NHS to become a satellite testing centre, in addition to the facility just announced, as the Scottish Government considers testing of asymptomatic individuals to bolster national monitoring of the prevalence of Covid. I will update you on any developments in this regard.
As the new semester approaches, I would like to remind you all that we are rigorously following Scottish Government guidance in the provision of all in-person teaching in St Andrews.
All of our larger classes, and some smaller ones, will be delivered only online. With small class sizes, we will provide in-person teaching in controlled and physically distanced circumstances, where full risk-assessments have been carried out and with strict adherence to all public health guidance. Our risk assessment process has been developed in detail, with the support and active involvement of the campus trade unions, and has proved to be a model which other universities are now following.
Small group teaching in safe spaces is central to what we do and who we are, and it is strongly in the interests of social mobility, mental health, protecting jobs, and supporting our local economy.
Safety and collective responsibility
Safety is our over-riding priority. It has been our watchword from the outset of the pandemic, and it has guided every part of our response to date. We have achieved a great deal as one community by staying true to that principle, and as a result St Andrews and its university have so far largely avoided the deficits and harm which we have witnessed in so many other places. I am advised that there have been no hospitalisations in Fife as a result of coronavirus infection for two months, and that speaks to the considerable efforts of government, Public Health Scotland, local communities, and institutions.
St Andrews was the first university in the country to ask our students to return home, and we will be amongst the first to welcome them back. I ask you all to work with me and each other to ensure that we do so safely and thoughtfully, in lockstep with the prudent and cautious approach of the Scottish Government, and with a clear understanding of our responsibilities to each other.
This of course remains a volatile and challenging environment, and I recognise that there will be many concerns and questions, as well as some excitement and relief, that we are taking our first (fully risk-assessed) steps to return to our classrooms and workplaces.
I would therefore ask you to respect one another and our local community, and follow Scottish Government guidance and any instructions set out by local businetwo Open Fora via Teams on I and 2 September at 12 noon and 5 pm respectively. I hope as many of you as possible are able to join. We are listening carefully.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor