Just 54 students followed University testing advice

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Only 54 students followed the University’s guidance to use a University testing site twice weekly throughout Easter term — making up 0.56% of the 9,621 students who participated in the testing programme last academic year.

A Freedom of Information request by Palatinate revealed that despite consistent University messaging for twice-weekly testing, an average week in Easter term would see just 401 students tested twice: 4% of the total number of students who participated in the testing programme in the last academic year.

Durham City had the highest Covid-19 rate in the country during the term, and, as this newspaper revealed in September, the University had spent over £580,000 that year to provide free testing to students.

Even with the low takeup, the effectiveness of the LFT scheme has been questioned. In Michaelmas 2020, 38 of the 40 positive lateral flow results received by the University term were matched with a PCR result, and just five were positive.

Prior to and throughout Easter Term, the University “strongly advised” students to take two Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) a week at University testing sites specifically while in Durham. In response to these findings, Durham University stressed LFTs have always been voluntary and that the University worked closely with student leaders in communicating the benefits of regular testing.

Students who tested positive were of course advised against going to a university LFT testing site.

In Epiphany Term last year, just 68 students took regular weekly tests

Participation in the “Wider Student Experience” — such as sport at the collegiate and University level, and visiting college bars — was also dependent on showing a negative LFT result from 48 hours prior.

On any average week throughout Easter Term, 401 Durham students tested twice, just 4% of total users.

As many, especially international, students returned to Durham in Michaelmas Term, the number of students taking LFTs jumped 70%, to 16,413.

In Epiphany Term last year, just 68 students took regular weekly tests as per the guidance at the time. On average, 205 students consistently took at least one test a week.

However, the student population resident in Durham was lower due to the pandemic, especially in Epiphany when England was under lockdown restrictions.

The University advised students against returning to Durham until the 26th April 2021— the start of Easter term — unless “essential” for the student’s educational needs.

Between April and June 2021 only 0.33% of tests taken were positive: 339 out of the 103,061 conducted. Durham City’s infection rate peaked at 2169.6 in the week to 19th June: the highest in the country.

Between April and June 2021, only 0.33% of tests taken were positive

In the last week of Easter Term — the week to 3rd July — the Covid-19 rate halved in a week as University events were cancelled and some students were either isolating or returning home.

Studies have given estimates of LFT reliability that vary from 40% to 90% as their efficacy depends in part on how carefully the instructions have been followed.

Durham University said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority.

“Lateral Flow Testing is one of a range of measures we’ve introduced to support a healthy campus, along with enhanced cleaning, awareness of personal space, ventilation and use of face coverings.

“We’re grateful to students and staff for their participation.

“LFTs are voluntary. We encourage all students who are in Durham to test regularly and have made accessing the LFT programme as easy as possible.

“We’ve also worked closely with student leaders to develop communications campaigns to promote the benefits of regular testing and encourage uptake.”

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