Are we over the campus Covid hump?

It's recently been clear that the much of the growth in Covid-19 cases in England has been in small areas where many students are in term-time residence.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

It’s this trend that has been behind the “blame students” tendencies you see expressed in the less polite corners of social media. I’ve seen several times a list of MSOAs highlighting the House of Commons MSOA names that feature the word “university” – some of the areas with the highest numbers of cases in the country.

The introduction of the “most recent seven days” data in the regular data releases mean that the weekly totals often languish under-reported – but analysis of these allows us to understand trends in new cases. We’re up to Week 41 (which ended on October 11) in that world – ample time for any late additions to totals to be included.

This graph shows the number of reported cases in each MSOA in England. The darker blue coloured ones have more students. You can see in many of these a peak around Week 40 (ending October 4) with a tailing off most recently. This is not universal (sorry Durham) and with only one full week of data afterwards (I’ve plotted the “last 7 days” to help) is not an absolutely reliable indicator – but it does look like the days of extremely rapidly growing case numbers among students might be behind us.

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You can filter by region and local authority name, and highlight MSOAs of interest. The data goes back to mid-August (Week 34) – the data is there right back to the start of the pandemic but I’ve plotted for wave 2 only.

Universities have been particularly good at testing, and fairly good at managing student self-isolation. We are beginning to understand (via the excellent UniCovid) the number of cases at each provider, and this coverage (drawn from press reports and internal emails) will soon by bolstered by official data reported to the Office for Students – which may even be published. What we don’t know (either for universities or MSOAs) is the number of symptomatic cases, or the severity of those cases.

None of this is to downplay the huge number of cases in student-heavy MSOAs, or the utter foolishness of bring students back to campus this term. We need to think about next term very carefully.

And please note also the underlying pattern of growth in cases in all parts of the country. We are by no means leaving the second wave, though the student-based initial spike may be coming to an end.

2 responses to “Are we over the campus Covid hump?

  1. Durham rising into wk 41 possibly strengths rather than weaknes your hypothesis, given the later start of term there (1 week after Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield etc).

  2. What student body positive test percentage might imply the fabled herd immunity?
    Certainly 9.3% on its own is not that, but speculating about:
    – immunity before this term at Uni (exposure to Covid between January and August)
    – positive, but managed to avoiding testing
    – result wrongly negative
    how close are these student bodies to 60%? (or whatever you think the herd immunity threshold is).

    These are the Unis which “UniCovid” shows having a big proportion of the student body with a positive test
    University of Nottingham 33,540 2,086 6.2%
    University of Durham 19,025 1,772 9.3%
    The University of Manchester 40,250 1,762 4.4%
    Newcastle University 27,215 1,752 6.4%
    University of Northumbria at Newcastle 26,450 1,603 6.1%
    The University of Bristol 25,955 1,296 5.0%
    Loughborough University 18,025 814 4.5%
    The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts 820 42 5.1%

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