Background: In England, the reopening of universities in September 2020 coincided with a rapid increase in SARS-CoV-2 infection rates in university aged young adults. This study aimed to estimate SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in students attending universities that had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak after reopening for the autumn term in September 2020.
Methods: A cross-sectional serosurvey was conducted during 02–11 December 2020 in students aged ≤ 25 years across five universities in England. Blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing were obtained using a self-sampling kit and analysed using the Abbott SARS-CoV-2 N antibody and/or an in-house receptor binding domain (RBD) assay.
Findings: SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in 2,905 university students was 17.8% (95%CI, 16.5–19.3), ranging between 7.6%-29.7% across the five universities. Seropositivity was associated with being younger likely to represent first year undergraduates (aOR 3.2, 95% CI 2.0–4.9), living in halls of residence (aOR 2.1, 95% CI 1.7–2.7) and sharing a kitchen with an increasing number of students (shared with 4–7 individuals, aOR 1.43, 95%CI 1.12–1.82; shared with 8 or more individuals, aOR 1.53, 95% CI 1.04–2.24). Seropositivity was 49% in students living in halls of residence that reported high SARS-CoV-2 infection rates (>8%) during the autumn term.
Interpretation: Despite large numbers of cases and outbreaks in universities, less than one in five students (17.8%) overall had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at the end of the autumn term in England. In university halls of residence affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, however, nearly half the resident students became infected and developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
- SARS-CoV-2 infection