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The government are urging staff and students to volunteer to be part of rapid testing and other testing surveillance systems on college campuses.

The project, called UniCoV, will conduct a large-scale analysis of testing technologies for use in surveillance of Covid-19 and prevention in higher education settings.

These will include rapid antigen testing, saliva-based PCR testing and wastewater surveillance. The findings will inform the development of early warning systems for future outbreak prevention and control.

Staff and students can enrol across four universities –

  • NUI Galway
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University College Dublin
  • University College Cork.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte said:

Rapid testing may potentially be an important element of future plans in our fight against Covid-19.  This pilot project will help us learn more about different types of tests, how effective they are and if they can or should be used in higher education settings.

None of these replace the public health advice but could be additional weapons in our fight against COVID-19. Over 8,000 will participate in the study and it is of course optional but I really would encourage staff and students to participate and help us with our plans for a safe and sustainable re-opening of campuses and society.

Students can sign up here, it’s easy, it’s secure and they will be playing a vital role in our recovery from this pandemic.

The UniCoV project is led by Professor Breda Smyth, NUI Galway and Director of Public Health, HSE West.

Professor Smyth commented:

Students in Ireland have shown significant resilience in adapting to the challenges that COVID-19 has created. However, evidence suggests both in Ireland and internationally this is not without adverse effects including reduction in academic performance, social isolation and deteriorating mental health and wellbeing. UniCoV will inform surveillance systems to support the provision of safe campus environments and provide evidence to facilitate return to campus activity for staff and students in further and higher education institutes.

Testing will involve volunteers providing saliva samples twice weekly and dropping them off at on-campus collection points.  These samples will undergo PCR or LAMP testing.  On the same day, those volunteers will take a self-administered rapid nasal swab antigen test, and upload a photo of their result from their phone to the secure website here.  The website also includes a detailed information leaflet, instructional videos and an informed consent document.  The UniCoV study will also include wastewater monitoring. Wastewater surveillance involves the collection of wastewater samples from each campus site and analysis for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A live dashboard will provide anonymised aggregate information about each campus’s results. This is a key part of the surveillance system and will allow for early warning of any potential outbreak.

Student Health Units will provide referrals for people with symptoms of COVID-19.

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