Oxford University’s testing service has confirmed 126 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff for the week 7th-13th November, with a positivity rate of 30%. This marks a slight drop in the number of new cases compared to last week’s 146, as well as in the test positivity rate compared to last week’s 34%.
Following a three-week period in which case numbers increased almost linearly (with about 200 new cases among students and staff per week), last week marked the first drop in the number of new cases reported. The numbers this week closely mirrored last week, indicating a substantial drop in the number of new cases per week. However, the number of tests conducted per week has fallen by about 50% since the week starting on October 17th and the high positivity rate of tests could be evidence for a significant number of unreported cases.
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 white paper 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”.
This week, the University released a detailed breakdown of the past eight weeks for the first time. Daily numbers of positive tests are given and the data is split into results for students and University staff. The positive cases among students for the vast majority of positive tests, with a total of only 35 staff members having tested positive so far. The total number of positive cases within the University as of November 13th is 980.
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”.