Most student Covid cases in England were at start of autumn term

Almost 40,000 student cases were reported before November but most staff cases have been reported since 

February 22, 2021
Covid test
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Most of the confirmed coronavirus cases among students at English universities over the past six months were recorded in the first few weeks of the autumn term, new government figures show.

According to the data from the Department for Education, there was a total of around 65,000 student cases of Covid-19 reported to universities and other higher education institutions between August and the beginning of February this year.

However, only about 24,000 of these have been reported since 29 October, when a weekly breakdown of the statistics – which is not available before this date – shows numbers steadily falling for the rest of the autumn term.

For instance, in the week to 4 November, there were 4,031 confirmed student coronavirus cases reported to institutions compared with 740 in the week to 16 December, a fall of 82 per cent. 

An estimate of the number of cases per 100,000 students, based on headcount data provided by universities, shows a similar decline with the seven-day case rate falling from 221.9 per 100,000 students at the start of November to 44.0 per 100,000 at the end of term.

For staff, the estimated case rate also fell in the latter weeks of the autumn term from about 122 per 100,000 at the end of October to 58.5 per 100,000 in mid-December.

However, unlike students, the data for staff suggest that most recorded cases since August have been reported since the end of October, with almost 5,700 from a total of about 8,000 being recorded in the latter half of the autumn term and first weeks of January.

Data for the first weeks of the spring term for both students and staff reflect the fact that England has been in a national lockdown since the start of January with only certain groups of students, such as those on medical courses, allowed back on campus.

However, this still did not prevent number of staff confirmed to have Covid-19 hitting its highest weekly level in the second week of January, with more than 1,200 cases recorded, more than double any week in the autumn term breakdown.

The data, which come from case numbers reported to the Office for Students by individual providers, confirms that much of the spread of coronavirus among students occurred when they first arrived on campuses.

They also reflect the fact that November, when cases started to decline, coincided with a second national lockdown and that between 3 and 9 December, students were given a “travel window” to leave campuses and offered a coronavirus test before they departed.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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