University of Cambridge's students' samples are tested at the Ann McLaren Building at the Cambridge Biomedical CampusJohn Sutton

Last week (05/10), the University ran the first round of its asymptomatic testing programme. In its first week, the programme ran at a reduced capacity, with only two people from each testing pool being tested. As of Saturday (10/10) over 11,000 students have signed up for the scheme and over 3,500 students have already been tested.

Despite the University-wide coordination, individual colleges have been given the task of implementing and managing the scheme. This has led to different colleges taking varied approaches to the requirements of the programme.

For example, in an email from last week, Jesus college offered pool leads, or as they’ve been termed “household contacts”, “a one-off £50 credit [which] will be added to your College bill for this academic year”.

Household contacts are expected to attend a briefing delivered by the Senior Tutor and Tutorial Department Manager and have been assigned a variety of other responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of the programme.

Likewise, student experiences across colleges have been mixed, with some reporting more issues than others.

Some students have reported that they found the distribution and organisation of testing to have been managed well. For instance, a third year student at Queen’s College, who has requested to remain anonymous, told Varsity that within their “testing pool the process overall ran smoothly. There was a bit of anxiety the night before as we hadn’t heard which two members of our testing pool would be required to take a swab, but by the time the test had to be taken this had been confirmed via email”.

However, they also commented that “unfortunately, as someone for whom receiving health-related test results does cause quite a large amount of stress and anxiety, waiting for my results to be communicated all morning (I received them at 2pm the following day) did definitely disrupt my focus and therefore my work.”

Students from various colleges have also reported that the program has been hampered by a lack of clarity in the instructions and communication from their colleges.

A student at Girton was asked to attend a self swab at the testing facilities at the Engineering department after their household tested positive in the pooled swab. The student claimed that, while the whole process ran “fairly smoothly”, the instructions “weren’t really clear” because they weren’t made aware whether they could leave their room to go into the rest of the flat after their pool got a positive test.

Even though the email sent out by Dr. Ben Warne claimed students would receive their pool test results within 24 hours, this student didn’t get their results back until the following afternoon.

Similarly, there have been reports of students at Selwyn College receiving test results on Monday morning (12/10), having taken the test on Thursday (08/10).

Meanwhile, a student at St. Edmund’s told Varsity that in the first week of testing his household never received a text confirming whether the results had come back negative or not. When asked about his evaluation of the process, the student claimed that “communication was pretty poor but the test process itself seemed ok”.

Students at other colleges also encountered issues with communication. After receiving “a number of enquires about asymptomatic testing results”, Chris Pope, Residences, Catering and Events Manager at Murray Edwards sent out an email to students saying: “I would like to confirm that our current understanding is that only those with positive test results will be contacted by the testing team.”

However, a student at Murray Edwards told Varsity this had created confusion because students had already started receiving texts saying they were negative. Murray Edwards told Varsity that they had emailed students with what they knew at the time in order to put students’ “minds at ease” but now acknowledge that “this may have caused some confusion and appreciate students’ patience in this matter”.


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Confusion was also sparked among Trinity Hall students, whose households, in some instances, were “aggregated into one [testing pool] to maximise testing capacity.” These households, according to one anonymous student, “don’t interact at all.”

For this student, the issue was complicated by the second household testing positive, whereas their own household tested negative, causing both households to be asked to isolate at 1pm on Thursday afternoon, having already attended an in-person class with several other students earlier that day.

A household at Girton tested positive in the pooled sample but received a negative test from their individual samples, having received confirmation from the testing team that they had originally received a false positive.

Trinity Hall, Selwyn and St. Edmund’s did not respond to Varsity’s request for comment.

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