Since the last Label Coronavirus Update in December, it’s fair to say there’s been quite a bit of change in the national picture.
The appearance of a new Coronavirus strain, resulting in the creation of a ‘Tier 4’ and a third national lockdown has changed the landscape, with areas in the South East becoming the hardest hit nationally over the Christmas period.
In Loughborough, however, the trend has been less drastic.
The steady incline of cases which we reported on at the start of December continued, as expected, after the end of the Second National Lockdown, and spiked just after Christmas Day.
However, unlike in other areas of the country where COVID incidence continued to rise until considerably after the implementation of Tier 4 at the end of December and the National Lockdown in early January, the mitigating factors seemed to work.
Instead of a continued climb of cases, we saw a plateau which (on a 14-day rolling average) is slowly starting to come down, and an incidence rate of 253 per 100,000 residents, almost half the national average of 439.
This is most definitely something to be hopeful about – and shows that the lockdown can work effectively – despite the terrible consequences it brings for daily life and livelihoods.
But why did it happen here? And what can the data tell us about this ‘success’ story?
The Student Factor
One notable factor is the lack of students currently resident on the Loughborough Campus and across the town.
This can be seen most clearly through an analysis of cases in the different parts of Loughborough – the student-heavy ‘University’ area has the lowest number of cases in any area of the town, with the student-majority Storer and Garendon areas also delivering comparatively few cases.
Instead, the area with the most cases has (for over a month now) been the ‘Lemyngton & Hastings’ ward – the area furthest away from the University on the Eastern side of the town, which has just a 7% student population.
The correlation can be seen again when looking at age data.
Despite data not being available for Loughborough locally, when looking at age in Charnwood as a whole, a clear pattern can be seen; whereas it was 10-30 year olds leading the case rate in October, cases in those age groups have remained suppressed.
Instead, it’s those in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who are contracting the disease at almost double the rate of those in their teenage years, in stark contrast to earlier in the year.
The other key difference in the East Midlands to the South is the prevalence of the new Coronavirus strain first detected in Kent.
The new strain is up to 70% more transmissible and potentially more fatal, but still remains less prevalent in the Midlands than in the South.
The question remains whether these two factors will change when students return to the town in February and March.
Currently, it is estimated that just a quarter of students are resident in the town, many of those having remained in the town over the Christmas break.
When they return, the student population will rise, and it is almost certain that some will bring the new strain to the town.
Whilst the government have mandated that students take two lateral flow tests on their return, and have hinted that more regular testing for those participating in in-person teaching may be on the horizon, the question remains whether this will continue to suppress the virus’ spread in the town.
Despite this still being an unknown, the current data (and the rollout of the vaccine) provides hope – that COVID is being suppressed in Loughborough, and that we can maybe see some light at the end of the tunnel in the next few months.
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All data accurate as of 22/1/21. Week-end data until Sunday 17/1 is the latest data available, with data published by PHE with a 5-day lag.