A message from the Vice-Chancellor about testing data, face coverings and tackling COVID-19

Dear all,

A rather unusual Michaelmas term is underway. I am gladdened to hear that teaching – both remote and in-person – is taking place, and that the collegiate community is overwhelmingly abiding by the public health guidelines, and by the guidance put in place by Colleges and the University to help keep us all safe.

Compliance with this guidance is essential to our ability to interact with each other in the weeks ahead. Some isolated examples of students not following the guidance have been reported. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is, both for the individual and collective good, to follow the current advice. The University and the Colleges will not hesitate to insist on safety coming first.

Testing data

Yesterday the University published data from the first week of its asymptomatic screening programme for students in College accommodation. The published report also includes results from our symptomatic testing programme for staff and students. These reports will be published on a weekly basis.

The asymptomatic screening programme is at an early stage, and we continue to address some of the operational challenges. But already the first results give us a good indication of the rate of asymptomatic infection among our students in College accommodation. Every student we identify as infected but asymptomatic – and who is now therefore self-isolating – represents a valuable intervention to prevent further transmission of the virus.

These testing programmes will allow us to operate with greater confidence and safety as we move into winter. They are an essential tool, and I am hugely grateful to all colleagues involved. Once again, however, I must stress that testing is only one component in our strategy. Our collective behaviour in the days ahead – including supporting people who may be infectious to self-isolate effectively – will determine our ability to reduce the likelihood of transmission.

Face coverings

We should all feel comfortable, confident and safe at Cambridge. We continually monitor the latest public health advice, and we take account of the science, including research produced by our own University experts. The University’s COVID Gold team agreed at its latest meeting to update the advice on the use of face coverings. We are now recommending that for indoor meetings or teaching sessions longer than 15 minutes, face coverings should be worn even if observing an appropriate social distance (2m) is possible. The updated advice can be found on the University’s Stay Safe Cambridge Uni campaign pages.

Tackling COVID-19

I am incredibly proud of Cambridge’s continuing contributions to our understanding of potential pathways through the pandemic. The University is one 22 founding members of The Trinity Challenge, a global coalition of organisations and individuals in business, academia, and the social sector that aims to find non-pharmaceutical, data-focused solutions to protect the world against future health emergencies. The Trinity Challenge is now open for applications.

I sign off by drawing your attention to the latest instalment in the “Unexpected Experiences” series of articles, which explore the creative and surprising ways in which individuals across the collegiate community have coped with pandemic and identified new opportunities. In this one, the Master of St Edmund’s College reflects on her preparations for portering, and on the challenges – and surprising benefits – of moving college rituals online. I hope you enjoy it.

With best wishes,


Professor Stephen J Toope