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Majority of university students are complying with government COVID-19 guidelines


UK universities implemented a range of measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission from September 2020, such as holding lectures online and restricting student living circles. However, despite these measures, outbreaks have still occurred across many UK universities.

In response, researchers supported by NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation launched CON-QUEST (COroNavirus QUESTionnaire), an anonymous online questionnaire to ask University of Bristol students and staff about their contacts, symptoms and behaviours. The questionnaire began in June 2020. 

 The researchers collated responses from 740 students who had completed the survey between the 14 September and 1 November 2020 and have published their results in a preprint.

The research found that students’ average daily number of contacts was significantly lower than in previous contact surveys conducted before the pandemic, suggesting that the majority of students are complying with government social distancing. 

However, the study found that some students had large numbers of daily contacts, mainly dictated by their large household sizes, seen particularly in halls of residence.  

The findings also show that among students who tested positive for COVID-19, 19% did not have any of the major clinical symptoms (fever, cough, loss of taste or smell), while 43% did not report a cough or a fever. Presentation of primary symptoms is a requirement for a free NHS COVID-19 test. 

The most common symptoms reported by students testing positive for COVID- 19 were a runny nose or sneezing (73%), which may indicate co-infection with a rhinovirus.

Emily Nixon, Research Associate in Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, who is leading the study, said: “While university students, due to their young age, are generally less adversely affected by COVID-19 than other groups, some are still medically vulnerable to severe COVID-19 and students have the potential to transmit the virus to others including their family so it is important for us to evaluate how the virus is being transmitted in the student population.

“Our findings provide a clearer picture of how contact patterns and physical distancing behaviours change over time and with different measures in place within the student population. We hope our latest recommendations can be used to help guide higher education sector measures and government policy.  

The study is ongoing at University of Bristol to enable researchers to collect data as the pandemic progresses, this will help researchers monitor changes, over the winter holidays and when students return in January.

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