Just score some crates for the house party (photo: Frank Steenkamp)
The Leiden peak in corona infections is starting to stand out nationally. And it is no longer a secret that student houses play a key role. But what influence does a minister or mayor have behind the front door of houses like RapL or Bree 87? Tomorrow we will know what Mark Rutte, Hugo de Jonge and Henri Lenferink have come up with about this.
Suddenly, Leiden was national news yesterday, in a rather surprising way. A high concentration of virus particles was found in the sewage water of Leiden-Noord last week. It was a striking outlier, according to the NOS. But Leiden-Noord: what was going on there? Very few students live there, right?
The explanation is simple. Our region has two sewage treatment plants. One along the Vliet, towards Voorschoten. And the second at the Merenwijk. It happens to be Leiden-Noord, but it also processes all the sewage water from the center of the city. And in that center are all the student houses where a large number of infections are now found.
That students play a key role in corona infections has been clear in other cities for some time. But in our region, the GGD turned around for a while. It was said that the infections increased ‘among young adults, but also at other ages’. And when it comes to questions about student houses, the GGD invariably referred to the privacy it must protect.
Monday Mayor Henri Lenferink broke this taboo. He told Leidsch Dagblad that half of the 93 Leiden corona infections were caused by students last week. One student took the virus with them from vacation unnoticed and others were infected because they did not keep enough distance – for example at cozy house parties.
If you are not completely blind, you could see this shower since the beginning of August. Official student life had been made completely corona proof, so largely restricted. But outside that official circuit, casual house parties flourished.
Noise at night on the Rijn- en Schiekade and the Hooigracht, students picking up 14 crates of beer at the supermarket on their flip-flops. And suspiciously large numbers of bicycles at well-known student buildings. And why not, because corona in Leiden went very well, right?
In hindsight, that was a coincidence. Frits Rosendaal, professor of epidemiology at the LUMC, already said this in an interview in July. Certainly, the Leiden region had until then had far fewer corona infections than the rest of the Randstad. But there was nothing special behind that. Coincidentally, Leiden had not yet had a major outbreak. A matter of luck.
Because of that luck, the Leiden population could continue to behave reasonably carefree for longer than those of Rotterdam, Gouda, Hillegom or Delft – the students first. Because where few people have the virus, there is also little infection to transmit.
Leiden has now caught up quickly. That started end of August already stand out. But only this week we dare to point out the ‘elephant in the room’ in Leiden: the informal parties, where after three beers people forget what is a meter and a half. You can also see it in people in their thirties who wander through the canals in a packed dinghy. But the students are still responsible for the large numbers.
The numbers speak volumes. Every week you see the number of new infections in Leiden and its immediate surroundings practically double. In the city itself there were an average of four a day at the beginning of this month, this week we are already close to twenty a day. The current week again shows a sharper increase than the national trend. With the percentage of positive tests (over 10%), Leiden is now practically at the top of the national ranking.
Behind the front door
Today, the cabinet and the security regions are discussing regional measures to contain the contamination that is rising too quickly. And you can bet that that is a difficult discussion. Because what can a minister or a mayor do about informal parties in a domestic circle?
Want to close the catering industry earlier? Shutting down student associations? As a mayor you know very well that such measures can sometimes backfire. Because cafés and associations are at least visible and reasonably controllable. But what influence do our drivers have behind the front door?
A strong awareness campaign is perhaps the best way to turn the tide. Earlier, the Rotterdam student associations switched to this, under pressure from Mayor Aboutaleb. And there you are: infections in the city have increased much less than elsewhere in the last four weeks.
Also in Delft, which is now considered the main source of fire among students, Mayor Marja van Bijsterveld indicated this week that she does not yet see any tough measures against associations – because they probably will not work. She too wants a campaign together with those associations to influence student behavior – especially behind their front door.
Because that behavior is key. The virus has no preconceived plan, it will only be spread if we give it the chance. And Leiden does not have any more stupid students than Rotterdam. They only get them wake op call a little later than others.
But the message can be crystal clear. “Do you want all your education to have to be online again and that you can no longer see teachers or fellow students? That you incur additional study delay? Then keep building nice parties! ”
“You don’t want to be the one who puts your professor in IC, do you? Or your father, who always contributes to your beer bills so nicely? Then be a guy or a tough girl and don’t give the virus a chance. We can do that together. ”