Updated on 27/9/21

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Update on testing over the summer vacation and Michaelmas Term 2021

Michaelmas Term

Our weekly pooled Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme will restart on Monday 27 September 2021, and continue for at least the first four weeks of term (then likely the whole of Michaelmas term, subject to review). Students who have participated previously will automatically be enrolled for the coming year. If you have not taken part before, please sign-up using our online consent form.

Where possible, changes to the programme compared with Easter Term 2021 have been kept to a minimum. Please note, however, that:

If you will be living in College accommodation, you can complete the consent form right up until 10:00 the day before your swab day (or the Friday before, if your swab day is a Monday). If you will be living in private accommodation, you must also complete this form – but, in addition, you will need to contact your College in advance to confirm details of your ‘testing pool’.

Please do remind yourself about how to take your pooled screening test. If necessary, your pool lead will be able to collect a new sample tube rack from your College in advance of your first swab day. This term, 8 swabs will be supplied with each pooled test kit – if more than 8 members of your testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.

As previously, a small number of students will not be eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme (for example, students in private accommodation who are unable to form a ‘testing pool’). If you are one of those students, we recommend that you instead take part in twice-weekly testing using lateral flow tests (LFTs). In the event of a positive LFT, you will be able to obtain a confirmatory PCR test from your College that same day.

In addition, 'Return to Cambridge' tests'Pre-departure' tests, and tests for enhanced contact tracing will continue to be available from your College Monday-Thursday inclusive, whether or not you participate in regular asymptomatic screening. Finally, any student or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19 is strongly encouraged to get tested at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods.

Returning to Cambridge

All students returning to or arriving in Cambridge should take a government lateral flow test (LFT) 3-4 days before they travel, as well as on their day of travel (before leaving for Cambridge). LFTs can be ordered here. They should then also take a University PCR test as soon as possible after arriving in Cambridge, and at least within 4 days. Depending on when you arrive, this may either be a ‘pooled screening’ test from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test.

If you are an undergraduate fresher, your College will be in contact with you in advance to confirm your starting arrangements. These will generally be designed to enable you to take part in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme within 4 days of arrival. Screening will take place Monday-Wednesday inclusive, with each College allocated a specific ‘swab day’. Please remember to sign-up in advance using our online consent form!

Where possible, we request that existing students returning to Cambridge at the end of September or beginning of October time their travel so that they can also take part in pooled screening within 4 days of arrival. If this will not be practicable (for example, because you are not eligible for the screening programme, or there will be an unavoidable delay of >4 days between your arrival in Cambridge and your first College ‘swab day’), please request an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test from your College as soon as possible.

Please note that, individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests are routinely available Monday-Thursday inclusive. To enable the return of students at the start of Michaelmas term, these tests will also be available on Friday 1 October as a ‘one-off’.  

Here are some examples of existing students returning to Cambridge, and when/how they should access a University PCR test:

  • Students arriving in Cambridge on Saturday 2 or Sunday 3 October should participate in pooled screening on Monday-Wednesday 4-6 October.
  • Students arriving in Cambridge on Friday 1 October with a College ‘swab day’ on a Monday or Tuesday should participate in pooled screening on Monday-Tuesday 4-5 October.
  • Students arriving in Cambridge on Friday 1 October with a College ‘swab day’ on a Wednesday should request an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test on Monday 4 October then participate in pooled screening from Wednesday 6 October.
  • Students arriving in Cambridge on Thursday 30 September with a College ‘swab day’ on a Tuesday or Wednesday should request an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test on Friday 1 October then participate in pooled screening from Tuesday-Wednesday 5-6 October.
  • Students arriving in Cambridge more than 4 days before the screening programme restarts for Michaelmas Term should request an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test the day after they arrive, or at least within 4 days.
  • Students living in private accommodation who are not eligible for the screening programme because they are unable to form a ‘testing pool’ should request an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test the day after they arrive, or at least within 4 days, regardless of their travel date.

Please note that details of testing and quarantine requirements for international students travelling to the UK are available separately. For regulatory reasons, it is not possible for test results from University of Cambridge programmes to be used for this purpose.

End of the summer vacation

Confirmatory PCR tests following positive LFTs,  'Return to Cambridge' tests, 'Pre-departure' tests, and tests for enhanced contact tracing will continue to be available from your College Monday-Thursday inclusive, up to and including the start of Michaelmas term. In addition, any student or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19 is strongly encouraged to get tested at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods.

 

Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme

Our weekly pooled Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme restarted on Monday 27 September 2021, and will continue for at least the first four weeks of term (then likely the whole of Michaelmas term, subject to review). Students who have participated previously will automatically be enrolled for the coming year. If you have not taken part before, please sign-up in advance using our online consent form.

Changes to the programme for Michaelmas Term 2021

Compared with Easter Term 2021, there are a few changes to the programme:

We have made some adjustments to the allocations of specific College ‘swab days’ (Monday-Wednesday). It’s therefore really important to double-check when you will be participating in pooled screening!

  • Following alterations to government regulations on 16 August 2021, contacts of individuals with COVID-19 will no longer be required to self-isolate, provided they have been fully vaccinated in the UK.
  • If necessary, your pool lead will be able to collect a new sample tube rack from your College in advance of your first swab day.
  • This term, 8 swabs will be supplied with each pooled test kit – if more than 8 members of your testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.

Previous updates to the programme since its launch

Since its launch in Michaelmas Term 2020, there have been several important changes to the programme, which remain in place:

  • We have been able to extend the programme to include many students living in private accommodation. In addition, for students who are not eligible to participate in the programme, lateral flow tests have been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening
  • ​Students living in College accommodation are now screened Monday-Wednesday, rather than Monday-Thursday, depending on their College. Students in private accommodation are screened every Monday, irrespective of their College.
  • Pooled screening test kits are now supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. They do NOT have the names of the students in your testing pool on the front. Instead, they must be assigned to your testing pool using a QR code or website URL on the test kit envelope. Please take a look at our guide to registering your kit for instructions. ALL students contributing swabs MUST each scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope at the time of swabbing, not just the pool lead.
  • Students in College accommodation should now drop pooled screening test samples at College collection points by 12:00. Students in private accommodation or from one of the Houses of the Cambridge Theological Federation should drop pooled screening test samples at one of the drop-boxes used for the collection of individual confirmatory tests by 13:30.
  • Because of the closure of the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre at the University's Anne McLaren Building on 25 April, we now use an alternative testing laboratory. From the point of view of students and Colleges, this has not affected the operation of the programme.
  • SMS results notifications are now only sent to students contributing swabs, NOT household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.
  • Students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive may now continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below)

Frequently asked questions

I didn’t participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme last year. Can I join now?

Yes, please do, if you are expecting to be in Cambridge. You simply need to complete our online consent form.

I live in private accommodation. Can I participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Students living in private accommodation are eligible to participate in the programme if they live in a household or support bubble (two linked households) with at least one other student at the University (from their own or a different College).

Examples include:

  • 2 students from College X living together in a house.
  • 2 students from College X living together in a house with 2 students from College Y.
  • 2 students from College Y living together in a flat with their 2 children (only the students may participate).
  • 1 student from College X living alone in a flat and 1 student from College Y living alone in a nearby flat where the households are linked in a support bubble.
  • 1 student from College X living alone in a flat and 2 students from College Y living together in a nearby flat with 2 other adults (not University students) where the households are linked in a support bubble (only the students may participate).

In addition, students living in private accommodation who would not otherwise meet these criteria are eligible to participate in the programme if they live in a household or support bubble with somebody who is clinically vulnerable (at high or moderate risk from coronavirus infection). These additional students will be treated as “pools of one” (only the students may participate).

If you live in private accommodation and would like to join the programme, you will need to confirm details of your testing pool with your College at least 5 days in advance, as well as completing our online consent form. Your College will then inform us of your decision, and we will then ensure that you are included.

For students who are not eligible to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, lateral flow tests have now been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening.

Will I be penalised if I do NOT participate?

Absolutely not, participation is entirely voluntary. It is grounded upon students’ willingness to keep themselves and their communities safe. There must therefore be no coercion, direct penalties or other undue pressure from the University or Colleges. Students should not be told that ‘they must participate’, or that ‘students who do not participate will be refused entry to University or College facilities or events’ (or equivalent statements). This does not, of course, preclude the University or Colleges strongly encouraging students to take part, in a positive and compassionate way. Small tokens of appreciation may also be offered.

Students who decline to participate will still be informed by their College if COVID-19 is detected in their household, and expected to follow guidelines on self-isolation. In line with the GDPR (data protection) and other laws, and with appropriate data minimisation and safeguards, personal data held by the University and Colleges about participants and non-participants may be used to support programme evaluation and COVID-19 research (for example, to evaluate rates of participation, infection and infection detection).

Are there any circumstances where evidence of participation may be requested?

The University or Colleges may wish, as part of an overall risk reduction strategy, to request evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test (by whatever means) as a basis for inclusion or exclusion in services or events. The means for evidencing a negative COVID-19 test in such cases might include (but not be limited to) any of: participation in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme; screening using a lateral flow test from the UK government; or testing from another suitably accredited public or private provider. Additionally, the rate of participation in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme may be one of the factors included as part of a risk assessment. These approaches would not be considered directly linked penalties, incentives intended to drive participation, nor undue pressure to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

For further information, please see our statement on incentives and penalties relating to the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

Further recommendations are available in the general ethical framework for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing programmes for students in higher education institutions developed by THIS Institute (The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute) is available here 

If I participate in the programme, when will screening take place?

Everyone who has agreed to participate in the programme and returned to Cambridge for Easter term will be invited to contribute a swab every week, unless they have completed an exclusion report (see below for further information on exclusions).

Participating students living in College accommodation will be invited to take part in pooled sample collection Mon-Weds, on the same day each week (their 'swab day'), depending on their College:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Corpus Christi Christ’s Churchill
Downing Emmanuel Clare
King’s Fitzwilliam Clare Hall
Peterhouse Girton Darwin
Sidney Sussex Homerton Queens’
St Catharine’s Hughes Hall Gonville and Caius
All students living in private accommodation Jesus Lucy Cavendish
  Pembroke Magdalene
  St John’s Murray Edwards
  Trinity Newnham
  Trinity Hall Robinson
    Selwyn
    St Edmund's
    Wolfson
    Cambridge Theological Foundation

Colleges with swab days which have changed since last year are highlighted in bold. Participating students living in private accommodation will take part in pooled sample collection every Monday (irrespective of their College).

You will receive a reminder email the day before your swab day, indicating who is in your testing pool, and who should (and should not) take part in pooled sample collection.

Are there any circumstances under which I should not take part?

You should not take part in pooled sample collection (contribute a swab) if you have not consented to participate in the programme, or if you:

If you have consented to participate in the programme and receive an email inviting you to take part in pooled sample collection, but belong to any of these groups, please let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

*If you have one or more of the main symptoms of COVID-19, please self-isolate and book a test through the University symptomatic testing pathway. You may still participate in pooled sample collection if you have minor symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion.

**If you are self-isolating on your swab day for any reason, you should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below). This also applies to students who would be self-isolating if not exempt (for example, if somebody in your household has recently tested positive, but you are not self-isolating because you have been fully-vaccinated by the NHS).

What if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

If you have one or more of the main symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, new cough, or a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell), you should not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, please self-isolate and book a test through the University symptomatic testing pathway or access an NHS test.

You may still participate in pooled sample collection if you have minor symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion.

What if I’m not in Cambridge?

If you have already consented to participate in the programme, but will not be in Cambridge for any reason, please follow this link and select 'Report exclusion'. You will continue to receive updates about the programme, as well as reminder emails, but you will not be invited to participate in pooled sample collection. SMS results notifications will only be sent to students who participate in pooled sample collection, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.

What if I’m self-isolating?

If you are self-isolating on your swab day, please do not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, follow this link and select 'Report exclusion'. This exclusion applies whether you are self-isolating because you have been in contact with somebody with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or have recently travelled to the UK from another country. It also applies to students who would be self-isolating if not exempt (for example, if somebody in your household has recently tested positive, but you are not self-isolating because you have been fully-vaccinated by the NHS).

Students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive can continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below). Again, this also applies to students who would be self-isolating if not exempt.

Non-exempt contacts of individuals with confirmed COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for 10 days. When a case of COVID-19 is detected by the screening programme, household contacts will generally therefore perform one ‘Test to check’ individual test the following week (7 days after their household’s positive pooled screening test), then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the week after.

If you have recently returned to Cambridge from another region of the UK and are limiting your social contacts prior to COVID-19 testing, you are not considered to be formally self-isolating, and you may take part in the programme. 

Should I participate in the programme if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of people with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

If you have already consented to participate in the programme and receive an email inviting you to contribute a swab, but have had confirmed COVID-19 in the previous 90 days, please therefore do not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, simply let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

What if somebody in my household has had COVID-19?

Most people with COVID-19 (with or without symptoms) shed viral RNA (detected by PCR tests) for 2-3 weeks. However, a small number of individuals may continue to shed viral RNA for several weeks, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others. This is one of the reasons why students who have had confirmed COVID-19 are excluded from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme until 90 days after their infection.

Compared with casual contacts, there is an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 within households. If somebody in your household has confirmed COVID-19, it may therefore be passed on to you (or other household members), and – if you do not develop symptoms – you may not know that you have been infected.

To pick up these infections, students who are self-isolating because of a positive household contact (or who would otherwise be self-isolating, if not exempt) can continue to be screened on a weekly basis, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below).

What if I’ve been vaccinated?

Clinical trials and real world data have demonstrated that vaccines are highly effective at reducing the risk of severe COVID-19. Unfortunately, they are less effective at preventing mild or asymptomatic infection, particularly with the ‘delta variant’.

In line with national guidance, we therefore recommend that prior vaccination should not influence the decision to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or other screening programmes or tests (such as ‘Return to Cambridge’ or ‘Pre-departure’ tests).

Please note that vaccination will have no direct impact on your test results. In particular, there is no risk of a false positive result with the vaccines that are currently available and the PCR tests we use in Cambridge.

How can I obtain a pooled screening test kit?

The mechanism for distributing test kits differs between Colleges, and they will notify you in advance of the arrangements. This may, for example, involve distribution of a test kit to the pigeon hole of your pool lead, or pick up from an appropriate collection point the day before your swab day.

Pooled screening test kits will be supplied in brown envelopes with blue logos. They will not have the names of the students in your testing pool on the front. Instead, they must be assigned to your testing pool using a QR code or website URL on the test kit envelope.

How do I take my test?

Please take a look at our swabbing protocol, which describes what to do with your test kits, and how to take your test.

Some household and testing pools will still have a sample tube rack from last year. If not, your pool lead will be able to collect a new sample tube rack from your College in advance of your first swab day.

This term, 8 swabs will be supplied with each test kit. If more than 8 members of your testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.

All students contributing swabs must scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope at the time of swabbing, not just your pool lead. If not, we won’t know you’ve taken part, and you won’t receive a result!

As a reminder, the video below shows how to take your test. 

Where you should drop off your pooled sample depends on what sort of accommodation you live in:

How will I get my result?

You will receive a text message at around 09:00 the day after you take your test, informing you of the result. This will include a link to a webpage with further information. Your College will also be provided with the result, and support you if required. Please contact your College, or email us, if you have not received your result by 15:00.

Please note that SMS results notifications are now only sent to students who contribute swabs, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs. And, if you don’t scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope, we won’t know you’ve taken part, and you won’t receive a result!

What happens if my pooled screening test is positive?

If you contributed a swab to a positive pooled screening test, you will be asked to self-isolate immediately, and obtain an individual confirmatory test kit from your College. These test kits are supplied in white envelopes. They are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue logos.

Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit – this is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample.

Please don’t forget to read the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test to remind yourself how to do so – this is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample.

Please then drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially recommended that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

What sort of tests are used?

The Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Because of the closure of the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre at the University's Anne McLaren Building on 25 April, we will be using an alternative testing laboratory during Easter term. From the point of view of students and Colleges, this will not affect the operation of the programme.

Tests will therefore now be conducted by Excalibur Healthcare Services, a private company based on the Cambridge Science Park. Excalibur has chosen the same PCR assay as the one used in the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre, and their staff have been working closely with our team and the team at the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre to ensure a seamless change-over.

We have updated our Privacy notice to reflect the change in testing laboratory. As previously, the testing laboratory will not have access to any information that could identify participating students.


What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive pooled screening tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives. However, the risk of receiving a false positive pooled screening test, followed by a false positive individual confirmatory test, is exceptionally small. The potential issue of false positives is therefore effectively mitigated by our two-step testing strategy, involving both screening and confirmatory tests.  

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative pooled screening test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

Should I participate in the programme if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of people with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

If you have already consented to participate in the programme and receive an email inviting you to contribute a swab, but have had confirmed COVID-19 in the previous 90 days, please therefore do not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, simply let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

What if somebody in my household has had COVID-19?

Most people with COVID-19 (with or without symptoms) shed viral RNA (detected by PCR tests) for 2-3 weeks. However, a small number of individuals may continue to shed viral RNA for several weeks, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others. This is one of the reasons why students who have had confirmed COVID-19 are excluded from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme until 90 days after their infection.

Compared with casual contacts, there is an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 within households. If somebody in your household has confirmed COVID-19, it may therefore be passed on to you (or other household members), and – if you do not develop symptoms, and are not tested during your period of self-isolation – you may not know that you have been infected.

If you are next tested after your period of self-isolation has ended, you may still have a positive test, reflecting “previous” (old) rather than “current” (new) infection. There is no way of distinguishing these two possibilities, and you and your household would therefore be required to complete a further 10 days of self-isolation.

To minimise the risk of this happening, students who are self-isolating during Easter term will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below).

What if I’ve been vaccinated?

Clinical trials have demonstrated conclusively that the vaccines being delivered across the UK are effective at reducing the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection. While early data are promising, it is currently less clear whether and by how much they reduce the risk of asymptomatic infection, and therefore the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

In line with national guidance, we therefore recommend that prior vaccination should not influence the decision to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or other screening programmes or tests (such as ‘Return to Cambridge’ or ‘Pre-departure’ tests).

Please note that vaccination will have no direct impact on your test results. In particular, there is no risk of a false positive result with the vaccines that are currently available and the PCR tests we use in Cambridge.

Will the programme operate as usual on bank holidays?

Yes, unless we specifically state otherwise, the programme will continue to operate as usual on bank holidays.

 

What is ‘Test to check’?

If students are self-isolating for any reason (for example, because a member of their household or close contact has tested positive, or because they recently returned from international travel) but have not themselves tested positive, they can continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection.

This also applies to students who would be self-isolating if not exempt (for example, if somebody in your household has recently tested positive, but you are not self-isolating because you have been fully-vaccinated by the NHS).

Non-exempt contacts of individuals with confirmed COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for 10 days. When a case of COVID-19 is detected by the screening programme, household contacts will generally therefore perform one ‘Test to check’ individual test the following week (7 days after their household’s positive pooled screening test), then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the week after.

Following the detection of a case of COVID-19 by symptomatic testing, the timing will be more variable. Some students may therefore perform up to two ‘Test to check’ individual tests during this 10 day period, before re-joining the programme of weekly pooled sample collection.

In either case, ‘Test to check’ is only available for students who are participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

How does ‘Test to check’ work in practice?

Students should obtain a test kit for ‘Test to check’ from their College. These are the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, supplied in white envelopes. They are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers.

Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit – this is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample.

Please then drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially recommended that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What’s the point of ‘Test to check’ and what are the implications of a positive or negative result?

The idea of these tests is to check whether or not students who are self-isolating for any reason (or who would be self-isolating, if not exempt) have become infected because of their possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infection. This will help reduce the risk of ongoing transmission within households (by identifying ‘secondary’ infections) and prevent repeated periods of self-isolation for non-exempt household contacts.

If a ‘Test to check’ test result is positive, it should be treated in the same way as a positive symptomatic test. Students with positive test results will therefore need to self-isolate for a further 10 days following the date of the test. Where other household contacts are already self-isolating, however, their period of self-isolation will generally not need to be extended.

If a ‘Test to check’ test result is negative, it does NOT mean that self-isolation for non-exempt students can be shortened. This is in accordance with current UK government guidance and reflects the fact that a single negative test can rule out most, but not all, ‘secondary’ infections, following a possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (depending on the timing).

Nonetheless, students with negative ‘Test to check’ results will be able to re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection knowing that their risk of having a positive screening test result because of “previous” (old) rather than “current” (new) infection, has been greatly reduced.

How can I find out further information?

If you can’t find your answer here, you can email the COVID-19 helpdesk or the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. Because of the high volume of enquiries, we may not be able to respond immediately.

Lateral flow tests for students

Rapid lateral flow (antigen) tests have recently been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening. We recommend their use for students who are NOT eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. In addition, the University or Colleges may recommend a negative lateral flow test taken in the 24 hrs preceding an event or meeting as a basis for inclusion.

Commonly referred to as ‘LFTs’, these are hand-held devices that may be used at home and provide a result more rapidly than ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests (usually within 30 minutes, as opposed to 24 hours). However, they are not as sensitive and therefore miss about half of the infections picked up by PCR.

Should I use lateral flow tests or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that students participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, PCR tests are much more sensitive, and therefore pick up more asymptomatic students with COVID-19 (fewer false negatives). Second, the programme allows us to monitor rates of infection across the University, as well as the number of students taking part every week. Third, it has been running successfully since Michaelmas term 2020, helping to protect students and the wider Cambridge community.

We recommend the use of government lateral flow tests for students who are NOT eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme (for example, students living in private accommodation who do share a household or support bubble with at least one other student).

How can I obtain and take lateral flow tests?

LFTs are currently available free of charge to all adults in England through the NHS. They can be ordered for home delivery, or collected from some pharmacies or test sites. Details are available on the NHS website, and instructions are included with the kits.

If you will be taking part in LFT screening, please register with the University. This will help us keep track of how many people are being screened. You will also receive an email with further information about how to obtain kits, register each test and report results to both the University and the NHS.

When and how frequently should I take a lateral flow test?

Compared with PCR tests, the lateral flow tests made available by the government are much less sensitive. For regular screening, it is therefore important to take these tests TWICE every week. In practice, we recommend that students take the tests on MONDAY and THURSDAY mornings. In the event of a positive result, students may then obtain an individual confirmatory test from their College that same day. In addition, the University or Colleges may recommend a negative lateral flow test taken in the 24 hrs preceding an event or meeting as a basis for inclusion.

What if I have symptoms of possible COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of possible COVID-19, you should NOT take a lateral flow test. Instead, please self-isolate and book a test through the University symptomatic testing pathway or access an NHS test.

How can I report the results of lateral flow tests?

Further information about registering tests and reporting results will be provided when you sign up for lateral flow testing. All government lateral flow test results, whether positive or negative, should be reported to NHS Test & Trace. Please also inform the University that you have taken a test, so that we can monitor the number of LFT tests being taken. In addition, if you have a positive LFT, it’s important to complete the University’s COVID-19 monitoring form.

What should I do if my lateral flow test is positive?

If your lateral flow test is positive, you should self-isolate immediately, just like if you had symptoms of possible COVID-19. You may then obtain a confirmatory PCR test via your College. Your household contacts should also self-isolate, unless they are exempt (for example, because they have been fully vaccinated by the NHS).

Confirmatory tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. These are the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, obtained from your College and supplied in white envelopes.

Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample. You will be asked to provide your mobile number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please then drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially recommended that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What if have a positive lateral flow test on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday?

If you obtain a positive lateral flow test result on a Friday, you can access a confirmatory PCR test at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods. If you obtain a positive lateral flow test on a Saturday or Sunday, when PCR tests are not available from the University, you should obtain a confirmatory PCR test from the NHS.

What should I do if my lateral flow test is negative?

Because of the latent period of viral infection, a single PCR test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19. Lateral flow tests are much less sensitive than PCR tests, and therefore miss even more infections (more false negatives).

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative lateral flow test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

What if I have a positive lateral flow test, followed by a negative PCR test?

If your LFT is positive, but your confirmatory PCR test is negative (and was taken within 2 days of the positive LFT), you no will no longer need to self-isolate. In that case, we presume that the LFT result was a false positive. Further information about positive LFT results is available here.

How can I find out further information?

Further information about government lateral flow tests is available from the NHS Test & Trace website. If you still have questions, you can email the COVID-19 helpdesk.

'Return to Cambridge' tests

All students returning to or arriving in Cambridge should take a government lateral flow test (LFT) 3-4 days before they travel, as well as on their day of travel (before leaving for Cambridge). LFTs can be ordered here.

They should then also take a University PCR test as soon as possible after arriving in Cambridge, and at least within 4 days. Depending on when you arrive, this may either be a ‘pooled screening’ test from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test.

If feasible, please therefore plan your travel to enable you to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme on the normal swab day for your College. For instance, if the swab day for your College is a Monday, please aim to return on the preceding Sunday.

If this is not possible, or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 4 days between your return and your next swab day, you should instead take an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test. These tests are available Monday-Thursday inclusive, and test kits may be obtained from your College.

Please note that, if you have had a positive test for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should not take part in asymptomatic screening.

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a ‘Return to Cambridge’ test if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

Is it preferable to take a ‘Return to Cambridge’ test, or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that you participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, our two-step testing strategy (including an individual confirmatory test) effectively mitigates the risk of receiving a false positive result. Second, regular (rather than one-off) screening is a much more effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19 within the Cambridge community.

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. Your College is responsible for distributing test kits to eligible students. Please, therefore, contact your College as soon as possible to let them know if and when you plan to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College. Please be supportive of their efforts! Some students, for example, may need to compromise on the day they take their test, to ensure that the system works for everyone.

How do I take a test?

Individual test kits will be supplied in white envelopes. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample. You will be asked to provide your mobile number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, ‘Return to Cambridge’ testing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

Is it OK to use a government lateral flow test instead?

All students returning to or arriving in Cambridge should take a government lateral flow test (LFT) 3-4 days before they travel, as well as on their day of travel (before leaving for Cambridge). LFTs can be ordered here.

They should then also take a University PCR test as soon as possible after arriving in Cambridge, and at least within 4 days. Depending on when you arrive, this may either be a ‘pooled screening’ test from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test. Compared with LFTs, these PCR tests are much more sensitive, and therefore pick up more asymptomatic students with COVID-19 (fewer false negatives).

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide further support.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

Do I need to self-isolate when I return to Cambridge, while awaiting my pooled screening or 'Return to Cambridge' test result?

If you have recently returned to Cambridge from another region of the UK, you are strongly encouraged to limit your social contacts until you have received a negative test result. Nonetheless, testing is not mandatory, and you are not legally obliged to self-isolate.

Please note that specific testing arrangements apply for international students returning to the UK.

 

'Pre-departure' tests

You should (if at all possible) plan your departure from Cambridge to enable you to take part in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme immediately before you travel, and at least within 1 week.

The most appropriate travel day will therefore depend on the swab day for your College, as well as other fixed commitments. For example, if your College swab day is Monday, you should – other things being equal – plan to travel on a Tuesday (assuming your pooled screening test is negative).

If this is not possible (for example, because you are not eligible for the screening programme), if you receive a ‘void’ result from your pooled screening test, or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 1 week between the swab day for your College and your date of travel (for example, because of a fixed commitment), we are able to offer a limited number of additional, individual ‘Pre-departure’ tests (similar to ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests).

You will need to obtain a test kit from your College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, and tests may be taken Mon-Thurs inclusive. 

Because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19. It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether.

You can minimise your risk by limiting your social contacts in the 7 days prior to testing, and in the period between a negative test and your departure from Cambridge.

Please note that, if you have had positive test for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should not take part in asymptomatic screening.

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a ‘Pre-departure’ test if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

Is it preferable to take a ‘Pre-departure’ test, or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that you participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, our two-step testing strategy (including an individual confirmatory test) effectively mitigates the risk of receiving a false positive result. Second, regular (rather than one-off) screening is a much more effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19 within the Cambridge community.

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. Your College will be responsible for distributing test kits to eligible students. Please, therefore, contact your College as soon as possible to let them know if and when you plan to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College. Please be supportive of their efforts! Some students, for example, may need to compromise on the day they take their test, to ensure that the system works for everyone.

How do I take a test?

Individual test kits will be supplied in white envelopes. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample. You will be asked to provide your mobile number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, ‘Pre-departure’ testing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. You will not be able to travel during that period. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive ‘Pre-departure’ tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus away with your from Cambridge, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

You can minimise your risk by limiting your social contacts in the 7 days prior to testing, and in the period between a negative test and your departure from Cambridge.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

 

 

Enhanced contact tracing

Since Easter term 2021, the COVID-19 Helpdesk have been organising tests for selected students and staff members who may have been in contact with somebody with confirmed COVID-19, and who haven’t otherwise been tested. This is now also recommended by the NHS.

These individuals may be household or close contacts, who are also required by law to self-isolate, unless they are exempt. Alternatively, they may be individuals who have attended an event or place linked to transmission, who are not routinely required to self-isolate. 

Standard ‘forward’ contact tracing aims to identify contacts of people with COVID-19, who may go on to develop infection. In contrast, the aim of this enhanced contract tracing is to work ‘backward’, to identify the original source of infection. Backward contact tracing is therefore able to identify a larger proportion of the transmission chain than forward contact tracing alone.

If requested by the COVID-19 Helpdesk, students will need to obtain a test kit from their College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, and tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. 

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a test for enhanced contact tracing if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. Enhanced contact tracing for students and staff with COVID-19 is being undertaken as a collaboration between the University and the local public health team. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Mon-Thurs inclusive. Your College will be responsible for distributing test kits, as requested by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. Please therefore contact your College as soon as possible to let them know that you need to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College.

What if I’m asked to take a test on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday?

If you need to take a test on a Friday, you can access a PCR test at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods. If you need to take a test on a Saturday or Sunday, when PCR tests are not available from the University, you should obtain a PCR test from the NHS.

I think I might have been exposed to COVID-19, but I have not been contacted by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. Should I get a test?

You should generally only take a test for enhanced contact tracing if requested to do so by NHS Test and Trace, the COVID-19 Helpdesk or your College. If you are in any doubt, please contact the COVID-19 Helpdesk directly at covid-helpdesk@admin.cam.ac.uk.

How do I take a test?

Students should obtain a test kit for ‘Test to check’ from their College. These are the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, supplied in white envelopes. They are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers.

Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit – this is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample. You will be asked to provide your mobile number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please then drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially recommended that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

If you are asked to take a test for enhanced contact tracing on a Friday, you can access a PCR test at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods. If you asked to take a test on a Saturday or Sunday, when PCR tests are not available from the University, you should obtain a PCR test from the NHS.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, enhanced contact tracing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

Will I need to self-isolate while awaiting the test result?

Individuals requested to take tests for enhanced contact tracing may be non-exempt household or close contacts, who are already required by law to self-isolate for 10 days. Alternatively, they may be individuals who have attended an event or place linked to transmission, who are not routinely required to self-isolate. The COVID-19 Helpdesk will therefore make clear whether or not you are required to self-isolate while awaiting your test result. Even if you are not required by law to self-isolate, we nonetheless recommend that you limit your social contacts until you have received a negative test result.

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What if I test negative?

If you are self-isolating for 10 days because you have been identified as a household or close contact of somebody with confirmed COVID-19, you MUST continue to do so, even if your test is negative.

Otherwise, students with negative test results should continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website. Please remember that, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with SARS-CoV-2 infection. While a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it therefore does not eliminate that risk altogether.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.