The University’s testing service has confirmed 146 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff for the week 31st October – 6th November, with a positivity rate of 34%. This marks a significant drop in the number of new cases, though the number of total tests conducted has fallen significantly this week.
There were more than 200 new cases across Oxfordshire this weekend, as reported by Public Health England. Oxfordshire County Council note that this is “under-reporting” because cases tested through the University of Oxford’s testing service are not “attributed to a specific geography on the national surveillance system”. The website says: “Public Health England and the University identified this issue and are working to ensure university data is provided in a way that can automatically be included in the national surveillance system.”
Following a three-week period in which case numbers increased almost linearly (with about 200 new cases among students and staff per week), this week marks the first drop in the number of new cases reported. However, the number of tests conducted per week has fallen by about 50% since the week starting on October 17th. The positivity rate of tests was at an all-time high this week, with 34% of cases returning a positive result.
Current University guidance is that students and staff should not get tested unless they have been asked to or they display symptoms of COVID-19. The University’s whitepaper states that “one of the challenges the University faces is staff and students with no COVID-19 symptoms asking for tests unnecessarily”. The University of Cambridge, whose collegiate system mirrors that of Oxford, have set up a testing pod in the city for symptomatic cases, but have recently announced they will test all asymptomatic students in colleges.
The University’s Status and Response website also states that the figures released do not include positive test results received outside of the University testing service. It notes further that “due to the time interval between a test being done and the result becoming available, it is expected that there will be a mismatch between actual results and those confirmed to us on any given day”.
Following the government announcement on Saturday night, the University updated its guidelines: “New National Restrictions will be introduced from this Thursday (5 November). The University is now considering the impact of these measures, and further information will be made available on these pages as soon as possible. You should also refer to the UK Government website for the latest advice.”
According to Public Health England, there have been 206 cases of COVID-19 in Oxford this week. Across Oxfordshire, there have been 814 cases this week. This is similar to 813 new cases in the previous week, raising the 7-day average to an all-time high of over 120 cases per day.
The University has implemented a four-stage emergency response, depending on how wide the spread of Covid-19 is. The current status is Stage 2, which allows the University to operate “in line with social distancing restrictions with as full a student cohort as possible on site”, with teaching and assessment taking place “with the optimum combination of in-person teaching and online learning”. A Stage 3 response would imply “no public access to the University or College buildings” and “gatherings for staff and students only permitted where essential for teaching and assessment to take place”.