In March, before the lockdown started, the University made a commitment to its staff that it would notify them if there were confirmed cases of coronavirus on campus. On the 23rd of March the University both clarified and repeated this commitment by stating that:
“We will continue to follow this notification process until the University closes for Easter on Thursday 9 April. After this we will only carry out notification and contact tracing if a case is confirmed among those who continue to come onto campus during the restricted access period,”
UNISON have learned that three members of staff working on campus received positive tests last week. While a certain number of positive tests is to be expected given the numbers of staff working at the University, UNISON understand that at least one of the cases is likely to be a result of on campus transmission, with two of the staff working in the Muirhead Tower and one of these staff already isolating as a contact of the other when the result was received. The third case is in one of the nurseries, though we understand that no onward transmission is suspected, with all the correct actions being taken in terms of preventative isolation.
As this comes while the University is strongly encouraging all staff to return to on campus work (even when this isn’t necessary), we feel it’s absolutely essential that staff are given this information so they have a proper understanding of the level of risk relating to on campus work. While everything we have been told so far indicates that potential contacts have been identified and told to isolate for the proper amount of time, a lack of transparency about cases on campus will be a cause of anxiety, rumour and mistrust amongst staff, students, and the wider community.
Specifically in relation to the two related cases, UNISON will be asking questions around social distancing standards and “bubble” working to try and establish how transmission occurred on a supposedly “covid secure” campus. We’ve also urged the University to communicate this information properly as part of the regular briefings – people will find accurate information about this much more useful and reassuring than the rumours that are currently circulating. We urge anyone who has Covid-related concerns or has witnessed unsafe practices at their workplace to contact us or their respective trade union branch as a matter of urgency. Our branch reps first found out about these cases from concerned staff who have been working on campus over the Summer.
Considering that these cases have emerged before the new academic year has even started, we urge university senior managers once again to address the joint unions’ concerns regarding enforcing a blanket return to on-campus working simply for the sake of aesthetic ‘vibrancy’ and the appearance of ‘normalcy’ during a global pandemic that poses fatal risks to those exposed to the virus.