In an effort to keep students and staff informed, Imperial College is publishing daily statistics on the prevalence of coronavirus within the university. The “College COVID-19 status and response” webpage displays the number of recorded positive tests on campus in both the past day and fortnight, as well as general guidance from both the Government and Faculty. At the time of writing the cumulative total for the past 2 weeks was at most 39, with the majority of those students and a quarter reported in the last day. Of course, these statistics only take into account the tests reported to the College’s contact tracing hub, and so the true number may be far higher. A particular worry has been that the spread may be worse in halls of residence following multiple outbreaks in them up and down the country, most notably (for Imperial) at the RCM.
In order to gauge the veracity of these fears, we spoke to some of the residents. A hall senior in Eastside told us that she was “aware of one positive case” on her floor - as a result of which the floor is now self-isolating - but that it was asymptomatic, and was only discovered because of her “heavy encouragement” to freshers to visit the Imperial clinic regardless of how they felt. She also expressed the worry that such encouragement was lacking from other seniors and feels that “College rules for living in halls aren’t strict enough to prevent an outbreak”. On the other hand, a senior in Kemp Porter said that while a few floors were currently self-isolating, things seemed OK otherwise, although the freshers were “frustrated” with the rules. Everyone we spoke to also confirmed that despite some residents socialising and partying outside the allowed bounds, the majority seems to be adhering to the restrictions.
The College is seemingly aware that a more targeted approach to managing outbreaks in halls may be useful. Last week, a pilot scheme of voluntary testing at Evelyn Gardens was run with the express purpose of “estimating the prevalence of asymptomatic cases” in students and staff on campus. Pending its success similar programs may be extended to the rest of Imperial’s halls, potentially making future statistics more accurate.