A new report into Coronavirus transmission in Loughborough has shown that the close-contact nature University halls were partly the cause of Loughborough’s case spike in October.
According to analysis by the Office of National Statistics, cases among Loughborough students rose steeply during October 2020, with the cases in halls of residence rising sharply in late October.
The ONS deemed the close proximity of students in Loughborough’s halls of residence to be the key contributing factor to the high peak of COVID-19 cases in Loughborough halls, along with the university’s ability to monitor cases more easily on campus.
In halls such as Cayley, up to 14 people in multiple flats were put into a single ‘household’ at the start of the year in an attempt to help students to create friends.
However, the larger households led to more cases in a halls setting compared to students in Town, with one student telling Label that it seemed that “with the bigger households it was a way of doing herd immunity … [catching the virus]was inevitable when the whole block had it.”
The University took the decision to end the larger, combined households at the end of October – which coincided directly with the reduction in cases in halls.
According to the ONS, most COVID-19 transmission in Loughborough could be traced back to students living together, as “Patterns often show one positive case followed by further positive cases within the same university block with quick succession (usually within a couple of days of the first case).”
However the effect on students’ mental wellbeing is still yet to be seen, with one student saying that their household being split “was the most devastating thing in the world … as we had become close to people who had become our family, our safety net.”
According to an October WONKHE survey, the proportion of students nationally who felt lonely on campus is now at 50% (compared with 39% last year), and a larger proportion of students now do not feel part of the university community (50% compared with 40%).
Despite this, the change, (which seems to have occurred first around October 28th) had a clear correlation with the reduction of cases in hall environments, with students in private accommodation being the centre of transmission in November.
Outside of accommodation, the ONS study found minimal evidence of transmission happening in learning environments, with further investigation showing any occurrence would be through appropriate guidance not being followed, “such as the removal of a face mask“.
One university described the results of their investigations into learning environment transmission as being “human compliance failures rather than systemic failures”.
However, the lack of transmission in teaching environments could partly be a result of increased online learning, with over 65% of students consulted in a recent national ONS Survey reporting having attended no hours of in-person teaching in the 7 days until the end of November.
22% of students said that they would be unlikely or extremely unlikely to return to campuses if teaching was online-only in January, with half of students also reporting that moving to online learning only would have a negative impact on their academic experience and that they would request a refund for part of their tuition.
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