Students aren’t to blame for spikes in Covid-19 cases, says Oxford professor

Renowned geographer Professor Danny Dorling suggests students not linked to outbreaks

Professor Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, in a blog post this week said students catching Covid-19 in October and November 2020 did not lead to a rise in cases in older age groups. This is in the face of popular suggestions that students were to blame for increased spread of coronavirus.

Dorling, writing on his personal website, said, “One question people may ask is whether there is any evidence that having a large group of students in residence at the two universities in Oxford had an influence. The heat diagrams shown below are probably the best evidence we have to suggest they did not. So although there was a rise in cases among the student-aged population in October and November 2020 it did not spread into older groups then.”

By analysing the number of people and age testing positive for Covid-19 each week, and by comparing Oxford and Cambridge to Milton Keynes which does not have a large student population in contrast to the ancient university towns, Dorling shows that cases in all three areas accelerated at a similar time and rate in December 2020 due to the Kent variant.

Dorling suggests the reason for this is the division between town and gown. In Oxford, university students mainly live within colleges separate from the wider population, unlike a more ‘normal’ university town where a greater number of students live with their parents and in the wider community.

In a statement to The Tab Oxford, Professor Danny Dorling said:

“There was a rise in the City of Oxford of the proportion of people aged 15-24 testing positive between 1 October 2020 and 1 December 2020. However, the subsequent large rise in case in the city comes later and is not well connected with that earlier rise amongst the student aged population.

“Oxford and Cambridge are unusual cities in that most of the population aged 18-24 are not locals, living with their parents. In hindsight, the ‘Kent variant’… was a far greater risk to people than students going back to university in September and October 2020. But it was utterly impossible to know all that ahead of time.”