Updated on 15/4/21

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Update on testing over the Easter vacation

The Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme will continue to operate unchanged throughout the Easter Vacation. Further details about testing arrangements for Easter term will be provided as soon as possible.

In addition, we are able to offer individual ‘Pre-departure’ tests’ for students travelling to another household over the Easter vacation. Please note, however, that for the great majority of these students, it will be preferable simply to take part in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme immediately prior to travel.

Students travelling to another household over the Easter vacation are strongly encouraged to plan their return to Cambridge so that they can participate in pooled screening on the normal swab day for their College, up to and including the week beginning 19 April. For instance, if the swab day for their College is Monday, they should aim to return on Sunday 18 April.

If this is not possible (for example, because they live in private accommodation, and are not eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme), or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 3 days between their return and next swab day, there will be a limited number of individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests available up to and including the week beginning 19 April.

Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme

Our pooled screening programme resumed on 18 January for students who are resident in Cambridge. As well as students living in College accommodation, we have been able to extend the programme to include many students living in private accommodation.

The programme will continue to operate unchanged throughout the Easter Vacation. Further details about testing arrangements for Easter term will be provided as soon as possible during the Easter vacation.

Changes to the programme during Lent term

Compared with Michaelmas term, there are several important changes to the programme during Lent term:

  • Pooled screening test kits will be supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. 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. 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. Submission of swab counts will therefore no longer be required.
  • Because of the reduced number of students currently in Cambridge, only 5 swabs will be supplied with each test kit. If more than 5 members of a testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.
  • Students in College accommodation will be screened Mon-Weds, and the swab day for your College may have changed. Students in private accommodation and eligible to participate in the programme will be screened every Mon, irrespective of their College.
  • Students in College accommodation should drop 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 screening test samples at one of the drop-boxes used for the collection of individual confirmatory tests by 13:30.
  • SMS results notifications will only be sent to students contributing swabs, NOT household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.
  • In-line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 will only be required to isolate for 10 days. Likewise, students with confirmed COVID-19 are requested NOT to take part in pooled sample collection for 90 days.
  • Students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis whilst 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 live in College accommodation, but I didn’t participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme last term. Can I join this term?

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?

During Lent term, students living in private accommodation will be 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 will be 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, and complete our online consent form. Your College will then inform us of your decision, and we will then ensure that you are included.

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 Lent 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 (swab day), depending on their College:

Participating students living in private accommodation will contribute to pooled sample collection every Mon (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 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 contribute a swab, but belong to any of these groups, please let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

*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)

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 during Lent term, 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 contributing swabs, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.

What if I’m self-isolating?

If you are self-isolating on 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.

During Lent term, students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis whilst 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)

In-line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 are now only required to 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 during their period of self-isolation, then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the following week.

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.  

How can I obtain a test kit?

Because pooled screening test kits will no longer be named or pre-assigned, the mechanism for distributing test kits by your College may change, and they will notify you in advance of the new 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 stickers. 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 revised swabbing protocol, which describes what to do with your test kits, and how to take your test.

Unlike in Michaelmas term, 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 the pool lead. Submission of swab counts will therefore no longer be required.

Because of the reduced number of students in Cambridge, only 5 swabs will be supplied with each test kit. If more than 5 members of your testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.

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 the day after you take your test, informing you of the result. 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.

Unlike in Michaelmas term, SMS results notifications will only be sent to students contributing swabs, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.

What happens if my pooled screening test is positive?

If you contributed a swab to a positive pooled screening test, you and your household will be asked to self-isolate immediately, and you will be able to obtain an individual confirmatory test kit from your College. These test kits are supplied in white envelopes.

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 ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially important that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from Michaelmas term, we estimate the chance of a false positive PCR test from our laboratory to be approximately 1/400. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of pooled screening tests are therefore likely to be false positives. Furthermore, the risk of receiving a false positive pooled screening test, followed by a false positive individual confirmatory test, is very small indeed. 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 from our laboratory 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, whilst 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 Lent term will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis whilst 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. Whilst 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.

'Test to check'

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 will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis whilst they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection.

In-line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 are now only required to 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 during their period of self-isolation (7 days after their household’s positive pooled screening test), then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the following week.

Following the detection of a case of COVID-19 by symptomatic testing, the timing will be more variable, and some students may perform two ‘Test to check’ individual tests during their period of self-isolation, 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 will ‘Test to check’ work in practice?

Students will need to obtain a test kit for ‘Test to check’ from their College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests. The protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it’s very important to scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope, to ensure that the correct student details are linked to the sample.

Students in College accommodation should drop pooled 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 samples at one of the drop-boxes also used for the collection of individual confirmatory tests by 13:30.

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 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 household quarantine.

If the 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 members are already self-isolating, however, their period of self-isolation will generally not need to be extended.

This is part of the rationale for conducting these tests during the period of self-isolation; without ‘Test to check’, students with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection may otherwise be picked up in the next round of pooled screening, leading to a further period of 10 days self-isolation for them and their household.

If the ‘Test to check’ test result is negative, it will NOT mean that the student’s period of self-isolation 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 after their period of self-isolation 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.

'Return to Cambridge' tests

If you are travelling to another household over the Easter vacation, you should (if at all possible) plan your return to Cambridge in time to take part in pooled screening on the normal swab day for your College, up to and including the week beginning 19 April. For instance, if the swab day for your College is Monday, you should aim to return on Sunday 18 April.

If this is not possible (for example, because you live in private accommodation, and are not eligible for the screening programme), or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 3 days between your return and next swab day, there will be a limited number of individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests available up to and including the week beginning 19 April (similar to the ‘start of term’ tests we offered at the start of Lent term).

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 Mon-Thurs inclusive.

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 Mon-Thurs 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, and 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.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone 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 will be used?

To support students returning to university, the government has made available lateral flow (antigen) tests which do not require laboratory processing. These are much less sensitive than laboratory PCR tests. Since we already have a successful testing programme based on laboratory PCR tests, we will not need to use these lateral flow tests.

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, samples will therefore be processed by the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Facility at the University's Anne McLaren Building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is part of the UK Lighthouse Labs network.

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, we estimate the chance of a false positive PCR test from our laboratory to be approximately 1/400. A fraction of positive individual test results during Lent term and over the Easter vacation will therefore inevitably 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, whilst 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, whilst 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 encourage 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

The government recently updated its guidance for students wishing to travel to another household over the Easter vacation. Whilst still strongly discouraged, a new exemption means that travel will now be permitted on one occasion from term-time accommodation at University to (and from) 1 other household for the purpose of a vacation during the Easter vacation. The window for travel is from 8 March to 29 April. 

If you do chose to travel to another household over the Easter vacation, 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 prior to travel, and at least within 1 week. The most appropriate travel day will therefore depend on the swab day for your College. For example, if your College swab day is Monday 5 April, you should plan to travel (assuming your pooled screening tests is negative) on Tuesday 6 April or Wednesday 7 April.

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 3 days between your College swab day and your date of travel, we will also be offering individual ‘Pre-departure’ tests (similar to ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests, and the additional individual tests we offered at the end of Michaelmas term).

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 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, whilst 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 Mon-Thurs 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, and 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.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone 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 will be used?

To support students travelling to another household over the Easter vacation, the government has made available lateral flow (antigen) tests which do not require laboratory processing. These are much less sensitive than laboratory PCR tests. Since we already have a successful testing programme based on laboratory PCR tests, we will not need to use these lateral flow tests.

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, samples will therefore be processed by the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Facility at the University's Anne McLaren Building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is part of the UK Lighthouse Labs network.

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, we estimate the chance of a false positive PCR test from our laboratory to be approximately 1/400. A fraction of positive individual test results during Lent term and over the Easter vacation will therefore inevitably 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, whilst 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.

Because of exceptional circumstances, I need to leave Cambridge outside the Easter vacation travel window. Is testing still available?

In exceptional circumstances (for example, for physical or mental health reasons), some students may need to leave Cambridge outside the Easter vacation travel window. It is essential to discuss such circumstances with your College. Nonetheless, we are currently planning for the testing arrangements as described (including the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, and ‘Pre-departure’ tests) to be available throughout the Easter vacation.

 

 

Enhanced contact tracing

Starting in the Easter vacation, the COVID-19 Helpdesk will be 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.

These individuals may be household or close contacts, who are also required by law to self-isolate. 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 Mon-Thurs 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 Sunday?

These tests are only available Mon-Thurs. If the COVID-19 Helpdesk requests that you take a test Fri-Sun, they will explain how you should obtain a PCR test for COVID-19 from the NHS instead.

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?

No. You should only take a test for enhanced contact tracing if requested to do so by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. 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?

Individual test kits will be supplied by your College in white envelopes, and 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.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone 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 will be used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, enhanced contact tracing will be based on laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore be processed by the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Facility at the University's Anne McLaren Building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is part of the UK Lighthouse Labs network.

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

Individuals requested to take tests for enhanced contact tracing may be 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 whilst awaiting your 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, we estimate the chance of a false positive PCR test from our laboratory to be approximately 1/400. A fraction of positive individual test results during the Easter vacation will therefore inevitably 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. Whilst 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.

 

Symptomatic testing

We are continuing to offer testing at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods for any student or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19, whether or not they are participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

Frequently asked questions

Will the pods be open over the Easter vacation?

Yes, these tests will be available throughout the Easter vacation.

 

Private tests and tests for international travel

There are several places in Cambridge where it is possible to arrange a private test for COVID-19, including the ones listed. You should NOT, however, presume that these tests can be used for the purposes of international travel.

If you are travelling overseas or returning to the UK, there are specific lists of accredited providers specified by the UK government. For regulatory reasons, test results from the University of Cambridge testing programmes can NOT be used for these purposes.

Frequently asked questions

I will be travelling overseas – can I get a certificate to confirm that I have tested negative?

No. For regulatory reasons, it is no longer possible for test results from the University of Cambridge testing programmes to be used for this purpose.

If you are planning to travel to another country, please check the specific requirements for your destination and airline, noting that a negative test for COVID-19 is likely to be necessary. There are a restricted number of private providers able to offer general coronavirus testing - see the list of private providers on the UK government website.

Further information about arrangements for travel over the Easter vacation are available here.

I’m an international student returning to Cambridge at the start of Lent term. Can I take a test to release me from quarantine?

No. For regulatory reasons, it is not possible for test results from the University of Cambridge testing programmes to be used for this purpose.

Further information about travelling to the UK, including tests for COVID-19 and how to access them, are available on our International Students pages. In particular, please note that there is a restricted number of private providers able to offer ‘Test to release’.