Covid ‘nearly eliminated’ on UK campus after asymptomatic testing

University of East Anglia figures show positive cases among students declined dramatically throughout first term, with very few cases among staff

December 16, 2020
University of East Anglia
Source: iStock

A UK university has reported that it has almost eradicated cases of Covid-19 among students after implementing asymptomatic testing and measures to reduce transmission in teaching environments since the start of the academic year.

The University of East Anglia said that the number of positive Covid-19 cases among students peaked at 69 three weeks into the autumn term. It subsequently fell to 25 cases by week six and by 9 December just two students had tested positive in the previous 10 days.

A report from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published on 4 September, predicted that the opposite trend would occur. It pinpointed the end of the autumn term as a particular danger, following potential spread of the virus on campuses during the first weeks of classes and students then returning to their families and communities before Christmas.

At the start of the autumn term, UEA introduced an asymptomatic testing scheme, which had the capacity to analyse 500 tests per day, and all students and staff who regularly visited campus or lived there were encouraged to get tested.

Students testing positive were told to isolate for 10 days, while asymptomatic housemates isolated for 14 days.

UEA’s figures, which are included in a new study about critical Covid-19 control points on campuses and published on the preprint server MedRxiv, also show that there have been very few positive cases among teaching staff. Of the 360 cases detected overall during the first 11 weeks of monitoring, just three were members of staff involved in teaching.

The institution said the findings suggest that the transmission reduction measures it took to prevent the spread of the virus in teaching spaces were successful.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at UEA’s Norwich Medical School and lead author of the research, said that the university’s response to Covid-19 has focused on three areas: regular communications, reinforced by enhanced security and monitoring of students on campus; social distancing; and testing and monitoring.

He added that teaching rooms were at about 10 to 20 per cent of their normal capacity.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Skimming the study the percentage uptake of testing wasn't immediately obvious, perhaps someone less screen blind has found it?

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