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University students and staff able to maintain low daily contact numbers during various COVID-19 guideline periods

By Adam Trickey, Emily J Nixon, Hannah Christensen, Adam Finn, Amy C Thomas, Caroline L Relton, Clara Montgomery, Gibran Hemani, Jane Metz, Josephine G. Walker, Katy Turner, Rachel Kwiatkowska, Sarah Sauchelli, Leon Danon, Ellen Brooks-Pollock

Posted 26 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.19.21250097

Introduction UK universities re-opened in September 2020, despite the on-going coronavirus epidemic. During the first term, various national social distancing measures were introduced, including banning groups of >6 people and the second lockdown in November. COVID-19 can spread rapidly in university-settings, and students' adherence to social distancing measures is critical for controlling transmission. Methods We measured university staff and student contact patterns via an online, longitudinal survey capturing self-reported contacts on the previous day. We investigated the change in contacts associated with COVID-19 guidance periods: post-first lockdown (23/06/2020-03/07/2020), relaxed guidance period (04/07/2020-13/09/2020), rule-of-six period (14/09/2020-04/11/2020), and the second lockdown (05/11/2020-25/11/2020). Results 722 staff (4199 responses) (mean household size: 2.6) and 738 students (1906 responses) (mean household size: 4.5) were included in the study. Contact number decreased with age. Staff in single-person households reported fewer contacts than individuals in 2- and 3-person households, and individuals in 4- and 5-person households reported more contacts. For staff, daily contacts were higher in the relaxed guidance and rule-of-six periods (means: 3.2 and 3.5, respectively; medians: 3) than the post-first lockdown and second lockdown periods (means: 4.5 and 5.4, respectively; medians: 2). Few students responded until 05/10/2020, after which the median student contacts was 2 and the mean was 5.7, until the second lockdown when it dropped to 3.1. Discussion University staff and students responded to national guidance by altering their social contacts. The response in staff and students was similar, suggesting that students are able to adhere to social distancing guidance while at university.

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