Some Covid-positive students are being recorded at their home addresses

21 October 2020

Students who test positive for coronavirus at university will be recorded as a positive case at their usual home address unless they have registered with a new doctors’ surgery, the government has confirmed—although their term-time addresses can also be stored in the system.

Our readers asked us to look into claims that positive Covid-19 cases amongst students were being recorded at their home local authorities rather than their university towns. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed to Full Fact that NHS Test and Trace “uses the most up-to-date address held by the individual’s GP”. 

Although many universities encourage students to register with a local GP when they arrive, this means that any who have not done this will have their positive tests assigned to their home address rather than their term-time location.

The DHSC said the test and trace system also “stores” information about addresses that it receives when tests are being carried out, so if a student does give their term-time address when they are tested this information will be retained. However, Full Fact understands that their positive case will still be formally recorded in the data under the address stored by their GP.

The DHSC spokesperson said both pieces of information—addresses listed at GPs and any other address given at the time of testing—are given to local authorities “so they have full clarity on the situation in their area”. 

“No area has had restrictions imposed which were not justified by the seriousness of the situation in their area,” they added.

Full Fact asked the DHSC where cases would be registered if they were found by mass testing, for example in response to an outbreak on campus, and was told the same system would apply.

How many students does this affect?

Although the NHS recommends students register with a GP if they move to a new address for university, there is no data on how many actually do this. This means there is no way of knowing exactly what proportion of students this is likely to affect. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has previously noted that young healthy adults, including students and particularly males, tend to be slower to register a change of address or re-register with a new GP after they move. 

It said: “As much movement of young adults is associated with higher education, there can be substantial effects in student areas and areas of graduate working.” However, it also noted that university policies differ, and some are proactive in ensuring students re-register with a new GP.

The Evening Standard has reported concerns from Richmond council in London that the sudden increase in Covid-19 cases in the borough—rising to 259 cases in the week to 8 October, compared to 156 cases in the previous seven days—may be partly due to students from Richmond testing positive at universities around the country.

On 9 October, the council warned that, of the 421 positive test results in the borough since 20 September, it found that 40% were missing the location of where the individual was tested, and a quarter of those which did show the location were tested “far away” from London, including in Leeds, Exeter, Manchester and Durham. The council said these individuals are aged 17-21 years old. 

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