Durham’s £330,000 LFT scheme returns just 37 positives from 10,593 tests

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A Palatinate Freedom of Information request has revealed that 10,593 Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) have been taken by students so far in the 2020-21 academic year.

The total number of individual students that have taken a LFT is 6,486. This suggests that around one third of students participated in the pilot scheme, based off student population statistics given by the University as part of their Covid-19 case reporting.

This figure increases from 31.6% of students having taken a LFT to 36% when taking into account that 2,500 students were estimated to have been studying solely online during Michaelmas Term and were therefore not present in Durham.

Additionally, these figures indicate that the average number of tests taken by an individual student was around 1.6. This means that some students were likely not taking the recommended two tests advised by the University and its partners in the pilot.

This number of tests was recommended, particularly for students intending to return home over Christmas break, due to the nature of the LFT devices. The devices are used to detect individuals with high levels of the virus. Multiple tests are advised to ensure that a second test has the opportunity to pick up on a viral load that may have been too low to be flagged after the first test.

37 of the tests taken by students returned a positive result, meaning that 99.7% of tests taken were negative and consequently did not require a student to self-isolate or take a follow-up PCR test.

Palatinate can reveal that £246,328 was spent by Durham University on the Lateral Flow Testing Pilot during Michaelmas term, ending 15th December 2020, and a further £84,451 was spent up to 20th January 2021. This makes the total spending on the pilot scheme £330,779, including staffing costs.

The initiative was developed by the University in partnership with the Department for Health and Social Care, the University of Oxford and Public Health England. The University did not receive any money to participate in the pilot but did receive testing equipment and personal protective equipment from its partners.

Before Christmas the total testing capacity across all three sites – Maiden Castle, The Racecourse, and Palace Green – for the full duration of opening hours between the dates 23rd November and 16th December was 32,400 tests. The total daily capacity amounted to 2,070 tests.

The University informed Palatinate that these figures were based off a “slightly reduced capacity” which “built in the flexibility to accommodate safely more booths if peak capacity was being reached.”

This would have allowed another 9,936 tests to be added to the testing capacity, if needed, during the opening of the scheme, which would have resulted in a peak testing capacity of 42,336 pre-Christmas.

The University is continuing to offer LFT to all students during Epiphany term. Participation is voluntary, but the University encourages all its members to “take advantage of this opportunity to test for their own benefit and for the benefit of those around them.”

Students who intend to return to Durham at any point this term are strongly advised to take a LFT on the day of their arrival back in the city, then on day four and day seven of their return. However, the University and UK Government advice remains to stay at home “wherever possible.”

31.6% of all students have taken an LFT test, rising to 36% of those studying in Durham during Michaelmas

Jacqui Ramagge, Executive Dean (Science) at Durham University, said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority. Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) is one of a range of measures we’ve implemented to support a healthy campus and we are grateful to students and staff for their participation in the programme and their efforts to protect themselves and our community.

“LFTs are voluntary. We encourage all students who are in Durham to test regularly, at least once a week, and we have made accessing the LFT programme as easy as possible. LFTs are available, at no cost, seven days a week at multiple locations in Durham and some Colleges. We’ve also worked closely with student leaders to develop communications campaigns to promote the benefits of regular testing and encourage uptake.

“Lateral Flow Testing aims to identify people who are infectious but do not know it. By identifying these asymptomatic people and asking them to self isolate, we can help break the chain of transmission and protect our community.

“The programme aims to test students and staff regularly to find and isolate positive cases swiftly, and to determine how we might test contacts of positive cases regularly to identify those who are not infectious and avoid the need for self-isolation.”

However, Ramagge also told Palatinate that “No test grants immunity to Covid-19 and we urge our entire community to continue to follow government guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus.”

Further details on LFT and information on booking a test can be found on DUO.

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