Update to ANU Community on COVID Safe Campus arrangements

1 September 2020

Message from the Vice-Chancellor to the ANU Community on Tuesday 1 September.

Dear all

Thank you to everyone who has returned to campus over the last few months - everything we do as individuals to follow social distancing and practice good hygiene will keep our community as a whole safe. I've also seen many people, who like me, have been wearing marks. Thank you to everyone for your vigilance.

As we transition into pandemic-era Business As Usual (BAU) for our campus, we have made some changes to our COVID response levels and the University's COVID management and governance arrangements.

New COVID alert system

The previous stages of return to campus will be replaced by a "traffic light system" of risk levels, similar to the ACT Emergency Services bushfire rating system. Our current level is "low" with no or low community transmissions in the ACT. Any movement within these stages will be determined by community transmission in the ACT or the risk of community transmission on campus. You will be alerted immediately via the ANUOK app when there is a change in our level. Please take some time to familiarise yourself with the requirements of each level and note that until we are entirely COVID-free as a society, the now-customary restrictions are in place. We won't return to 'normal' until COVID has been eliminated.

Categorising "essential staff"

When we moved to remote work and learning in March this year, we did so very quickly and we have learnt from this experience, particularly around the longer-term impacts on some critical research projects and infrastructure (for example, plants, animals or cadavers). Should the University move into high or extreme levels, as per the COVID alert system (above), the definition of essential staff - people who cannot do their job remotely - will be determined by the relevant Dean or Portfolio head. Areas have risk assessments in place that can change if the COVID threat level escalates to High (Orange) and Extreme (Red).

Reporting potential COVID cases

An important part of continuing to keep our community safe is to keep people informed of potential risks. If you have a COVID-19 test under assessment or have tested positive to COVID-19, you must contact communitywellbeing@anu.edu.au and your supervisor. The Community Wellbeing Team will review the circumstances and reach out to you and, depending on how you may have contracted COVID-19 and if you have visited campus, be able to protect other staff by implementing relevant cleaning and communications responses. Your privacy will be protected at all times. But it is essential we act swiftly should anyone in our community contract COVID-19 for the health and safety of everyone. To this end I would also ask anyone on campus to remember to fill out contact details at the eateries on campus if you visit them. This is a necessary expectation of Government to help keep us all quickly informed if we may have been exposed to COVID.

Expert advisory panel

I am an astrophysicist. I can do some rough modelling sums on the back of an envelope, but I am not an epidemiologist, nor a public health expert. That's why from the beginning of this pandemic I have sought the advice of the experts - and I am lucky to be able to call on the leaders in their field, in many cases the same experts who are advising the national response. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their time, commitment and advice as we have and continue to navigate this unprecedented challenge. As you can see from the list below, the experts whose advice I've been relying on over the past few months - and will keep relying on until this is behind us! - are a real who's who of Australian medical expertise:

  • Professor Russell Gruen, Dean, College of Health and Medicine
  • Dr Kamalini Lokuge, Research School of Public Health
  • Professor Emily Banks, Research School of Public Health
  • Professor Tracy Smart, College of Health and Medicine
  • Professor Graham Mann, John Curtin School of Medical Research
  • Professor Darren Gray, Research School of Public Health
  • Professor Ian Anderson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student and University Experience)
  • Professor Peter Collignon, ANU Medical School
  • Professor Martyn Kirk, Research School of Public Health
  • Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, ANU Medical School
  • Professor Iain Walker, Head of School of Psychology
  • Lucy Kirk, research assistant and final year medical student, ANU Medical School

COVID Committee and COVID Response Office

We have disbanded the BAU Taskforce which was focussing on a safe return to campus for our staff and students. However, COVID will be a part of our lives at least until a vaccine is found, so we must have in place the right management structure to ensure our operations can continue safely and with minimal disruption.

The COVID Committee will oversee the University's policy development for managing COVID-19 in our community. The Committee is led by Professor Ian Anderson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student and University Experience) and public health expert. A representative from ACT Health will also be on the COVID Committee to ensure our policies align with the ACT Government's response to managing community transition in Canberra and its surrounds.

Reporting to the COVIDSafe Committee will be the COVID Response Office, led by our newly appointed Public Health Lead Professor Tracy Smart. Tracy is the former Surgeon-General of the Australian Defence Force and is a professor of military and aerospace medicine. Tracy will be seconded from the College of Health and Medicine part time to the COVID Response Office to lead the development and implementation of the University's policies.

Finally, on behalf of the University, I'd like to acknowledge and thank all of the staff who have been involved with the University's response to COVID-19. This has been an extraordinary effort and I am very proud to be part of this community.