Covid-19 infection rates at universities are up to SEVEN TIMES higher than in local cities


Coronavirus outbreaks in student areas are much bigger in the universities than in the towns and cites around them, data shows. 

Analysis shows there are up to seven times more cases per person among certain student populations than in the public.

Sheffield University reported 588 student infections in the week ending 8 October, which is equal to an infection rate of 2,028 per 100,000 people – the standard measure for analysing outbreaks. 

Infection rates have shot up since the return of thousands of students and staff — Sheffield’s has soared by 13 times in the space of a month. 

The university’s rate is seven times higher than that for the city council area as a whole, which stood at just under 300 per 100,000 for the same time-frame.

Experts say it is impossible to contain the coronavirus to students even if they are told to stay in their accommodation, saying it will inevitably spill into the wider community. 

It comes as England’s deputy chief medical officer. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam. today warned cases were spreading from younger people to the more vulnerable old generation. 

At a press briefing from No. 10 this morning, he said that while the epidemic ‘re-started’ again among younger people over the past few weeks, there is ‘clear evidence of a gradual spread into older age groups’ in the worst-hit areas. 

Covid-19 infection rates are soaring at universities in England and Wales when compared to their local cities, data shows

Data from 10 of the largest universities by student population in England and Wales, for which Covid-19 figures were available, was analysed by The Guardian.

In all but the universities of Liverpool, and South Wales, infection rates were higher among students than the local population. 

The figures per local authority area were correct as of 4.30pm on 9 October. They will have changed since but come amid mounting fears that growing student outbreaks risk spilling over into the wider community. 

Generally speaking, cases in people aged under 30 are not a huge concern because younger people are much less likely to die from Covid-19 or need hospital care.

But once the disease creeps into older groups, both hospital admissions and deaths start to spike — as they have done in the UK.

However, the University and College Union, which has a dashboard for cases of Covid-19 across universities, said students should not be blamed for outbreaks.

General secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Ministers and universities spent the summer encouraging students back to supposedly “Covid-secure” campuses. 

‘Warnings from scientists and us made clear that anything resembling a normal student experience was unlikely and a mass return to campus would likely lead to big Covid outbreaks. 

‘What we are seeing now is a predictable and preventable crisis that ministers and universities chose not to do more to constrain. 

‘Students must not be made the scapegoats for the failings of universities and government, and must be allowed to return home safely if they wish to do so.’

The University and College Union said there have been 13,300 cases of Covid-19 among students and staff in higher education so far.

One of the biggest single contributors of these (1,538) has been the University of Nottingham. 

Professor Gavin Yamey, the director of the Centre for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University, who is leading research into the spread of Covid across higher education, warned: ‘It is impossible to hermetically seal off students and staff from the wider community.’

He noted a study that found the reopening of US universities and colleges earlier this summer contributed to more than 3,000 new daily cases in their local areas.

He said: ‘I am horrified that UK universities failed to learn from the great American university reopening debacle.’ 

The University of Sheffield has the highest infection rate compared to its local area, according to The Guardian analysis, and its website says currently 62 students and staff are testing positive every day. 

Sheffield, home to some half a million students, has two universities – the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University – which bring some 60,000 students to the city every year. They have reported 762 cases of Covid-19 combined so far.

Manchester University has the highest student infection rate per capita, with 2,888 cases per 100,000 population. This was more than five times higher than the local authority rate.   

There were 1,155 cases reported by Manchester University in the week ending October 6.

Students in Manchester Met University have been isolating over the last two weeks following large numbers of cases (08/10/2020)

Students in Manchester Met University have been isolating over the last two weeks following large numbers of cases (08/10/2020)

Students Lauren Watson (left) and Olivia Austin at The Forge student accommodation at Sheffield Hallam University which has seen a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases among its students (06/10/2020)

Students Lauren Watson (left) and Olivia Austin at The Forge student accommodation at Sheffield Hallam University which has seen a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases among its students (06/10/2020)

CASES ARE STARTING TO SPREAD FROM THE YOUNG TO THE OLD 

Today health chiefs said rising infections in young people – a trend which was spotted at the start of August – was starting to make its way into the more vulnerable populations.

At a Downing Street press briefing, maps and heat charts presented by Professor Van-Tam showed how cases are rising in elderly people in areas that have bad outbreaks, which may soon happen across the UK.

Professor Van-Tam said today: Our resurgence of cases this autumn has been mainly in adults aged 20 to 29 years of age and that is absolutely true.’

Showing maps plotting cases of specifically people aged 60 and over, the deputy chief medical officer explained: ‘You can see that there is the spread from those younger age groups into the 60-plus age group in the North West and the North East and there are rates of change in the same place, but also extending a little further south.

‘This is again of significant concern… because, of course, the elderly suffer a much worse course with Covid-19. They are admitted to hospital for longer periods and they are more difficult to save.’

Last week’s Public Health England report showed that infection rates are highest in 10 to 19-year-olds (237 cases per 100,000 people), followed by 20 to 29-year-olds (200).

They are markedly lower in the older age groups, with rates of 62 cases per 100,000 for those in their 60s, 39 per 100,000 for people in their 70s and 53 per 100,000 for the 80+ group.

However, although these age groups have lower rates they have risen at approximately the same pace as younger people. 

Rates may be lower because elderly people are more aware about the personal risks they face and more likely to keep social distancing and shield themselves at home.

In the month up to October 4, the infection rate in people in their 60s more than tripled from 21 cases per 100,000 to 62.

This 199 per cent increase was close to the 221 per cent rise seen in the 20 to 29 age group, where the infection rate rose from 62 to 199.5 during the same time frame. 

While rising cases in the under-30s may not directly increase the death toll, it is dragging up case rates in the elderly, data shows, which will inevitably lead to fatalities.   

In a series of heat charts, Professor Van-Tam explained that although in the North West cases appeared to be growing only among 16 to 29-year-olds in early September, they quickly spread to older, more at-risk age groups.

There are now multiple cases of coronavirus at student accommodation across Manchester. Almost 2,000 cases have been diagnosed across the city’s two universities – University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Some 40,000 students live in Manchester, which, along with the surrounding boroughs, was already put under tougher Covid-19 restrictions in July to curb rapid spread of the coronavirus among 2.8million residents.

Sarah Doran, a consultant in public health who is leading Manchester’s response to Covid-19, said a pilot scheme to mass-test students in halls of residence has led to high figures reported.

Public health officials handed out hundreds of tests to locked down students in Manchester Metropolitan University’s halls of residence at the end of September.

One in four were found to have Covid-19 (272 of 640 tests) after major outbreaks across two sets of MMU halls in September.

It is understood most of the people who received a positive result in the pilot did not have symptoms. 

Many young people will be carrying the virus without showing symptoms, posing a risk to anyone they come into close contact with.

Martyn Moss, the University and College Union (UCU) north-west England regional official, said student hubs in the city, such as Fallowfield, were reporting soaring rates of infection. 

At one point, Fallowfield had the highest infection rate of any local authority of England, with 863 cases per 100,000 in the week to September 27, Manchester Evening News reported. 

Mr Moss said: ‘We are in a nightmare situation where large numbers of asymptomatic people may be spreading the virus to higher risk groups in the local community.’ 

Ministers have been urged to supply routine testing to universities so no cases are missed. 

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions, said: ‘It is more important than ever that the government commits to a mass testing strategy for university students and staff with rapid turnaround of results and effective tracing of contacts.’

There have been concerns university students will not only spread the virus to those in their community, but across the nation when they return home to see relatives, especially over Christmas break.

Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at Bristol University and a member of the Independent Sage committee, said student outbreaks could have an enormous effect if young people choose ‘to go home and bring the virus with them or if they mix in the community’.

He added: ‘We shouldn’t blithely accept the spread of this virus, which I think perhaps some of the universities are guilty of.’

Birmingham University was found to have an infection rate of 1,023 per 100,000 students.

This is six times higher than the rate for the local council. It recorded 307 infections among students in the week ending 6 October. 

There have been a total of 445 Covid-19 cases so far across University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University.

Data shows in Fallowfield in Manchester - a thriving student suburb of the city - five per cent of people tested positive for the disease in the week ending October 2

Data shows in Fallowfield in Manchester – a thriving student suburb of the city – five per cent of people tested positive for the disease in the week ending October 2

Social gatherings have been blamed for the outbreak since tens of thousands of students returned to the Midlands city – home to 1million people. 

Councillor Ian Ward, city council leader, said: ‘Nationally and locally we are seeing the main cause of spread between students is social gatherings off campus in private households and hospitality settings.’ 

Today health chiefs said rising infections in young people – a trend which was spotted at the start of August – was starting to make its way into the more vulnerable populations.

At a Downing Street press briefing, maps and charts presented by Professor Van-Tam showed how cases are rising in elderly people in areas that have bad outbreaks, which may soon happen across the UK.

Professor Van-Tam said today: ‘Our resurgence of cases this autumn has been mainly in adults aged 20 to 29 years of age and that is absolutely true.’

Showing maps plotting cases of specifically people aged 60 and over, the deputy chief medical officer explained: ‘You can see that there is the spread from those younger age groups into the 60-plus age group in the North West and the North East and there are rates of change in the same place, but also extending a little further south.

‘This is again of significant concern… because, of course, the elderly suffer a much worse course with Covid-19. They are admitted to hospital for longer periods and they are more difficult to save.’ 

Cases are rising among the at-risk over-60s in areas that have bad outbreaks, top medics warned, meaning hospital admissions will rise in those areas. The same trend is likely to continue across the whole country, they said (Pictured: Areas with the darkest patches are the worst-affected. Purple map, left, shows the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000. Brown map, right, shows the change in the infection rate between the last week of September and first week of October)

Cases are rising among the at-risk over-60s in areas that have bad outbreaks, top medics warned, meaning hospital admissions will rise in those areas. The same trend is likely to continue across the whole country, they said (Pictured: Areas with the darkest patches are the worst-affected. Purple map, left, shows the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000. Brown map, right, shows the change in the infection rate between the last week of September and first week of October)

This heat map illustrates how infection rates have changed in different age groups since the start of September. Age groups are listed horizontally with the oldest at the top for each region, while the dates run across the bottom. The darkening of a box shows infections are increasing. As the dark boxes move higher towards the top of the graph, it means cases are increasing among at-risk older age groups

This heat map illustrates how infection rates have changed in different age groups since the start of September. Age groups are listed horizontally with the oldest at the top for each region, while the dates run across the bottom. The darkening of a box shows infections are increasing. As the dark boxes move higher towards the top of the graph, it means cases are increasing among at-risk older age groups

The statistics come amid fears most of the North will be placed under stricter control measures, such as the closure of pubs, under the new traffic light system.   

A spokesman for Manchester University, which has moved teaching online until 30 October, said the local council and universities in the city were knocking on doors to remind students of the Covid-19 restrictions.

A Sheffield University spokeswoman said it had suspended most in-person teaching until 19 October.

A Birmingham University spokesman said students had direct access to testing on campus, and more tests were being conducted in the city than in many other parts of the UK.

A Birmingham city council spokeswoman added: ‘There is no evidence that Covid has spread from students in halls of residence to the wider community, but this is being monitored closely.’  

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘Universities are prepared for a local outbreak, and we have worked with them to help draw up plans for measures in the event of positive cases on campus, or a rise in cases locally.

‘Universities are actively monitoring cases and making judgements about the safest options for their staff, students and local communities based on the latest data, our published guidance informed by SAGE, and advice from local public health officials. 

‘We recognise this has been a really challenging time for students, and will continue to do everything we can to help universities ensure students have all the additional help and practical support they need.’

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