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Pilot scheme Volunteers needed for testing programme that could limit Covid outbreaks at campuses

A pilot scheme titled UniCoV is designed to assist the safe and sustainable re-opening of Higher Education Institute campuses across Ireland this month

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Simon Harris said that Uni CoV testing could “potentially be an important element” of the Government’s plan for a safe return to on-site teaching, research and study

Simon Harris said that Uni CoV testing could “potentially be an important element” of the Government’s plan for a safe return to on-site teaching, research and study

Simon Harris said that Uni CoV testing could “potentially be an important element” of the Government’s plan for a safe return to on-site teaching, research and study

Volunteers are needed for a pilot testing programme that could limit Covid-19 outbreaks at third level campuses.

A pilot scheme titled UniCoV is designed to assist the safe and sustainable re-opening of Higher Education Institute campuses across Ireland this month.

The scheme is using rapid antigen and saliva-based nucleic acid testing to explore if an early warning system can be developed to prevent and limit future outbreaks at third level institutions.

The multi-site study hopes to recruit 2,000 volunteers from amongst faculty, staff and students at each of its four participating universities, National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Cork (UCC), and University College Dublin (UCD).

Volunteer registration is now open for a new rapid Covid-19 testing project at UCD aimed at supporting a return to campus for students and staff.

Patrick Mallon, UCD Principal Investigator and Professor of Microbial Diseases/Consultant Microbiologist/Infectious Diseases at its School of Medicine said that the scheme is a culmination of many weeks of planning to develop a usable system to enable a safer return to in-person attendance at Universities in Ireland.

“Even with the successful vaccination programme, ongoing testing will play a vital role in maintaining safe environments for all students and staff in the near future. UniCoV provides a platform for us to determine what works best and we really value the participation of as many staff and students as possible to make this a success,” said Professor Mallon.

At UCD, volunteers will be divided into two cohorts of testers – a small one group who will continuously self-test twice weekly for eight weeks, and another that will undertake random testing for a period of two weeks.

When selected, volunteers will be asked to collect testing kits each week at the start of their testing period, undergo a swab, and drop off submit saliva samples twice weekly before returning them to a collection point on campus.

The volunteers involved with the project will also submit a self-administered rapid antigen (nasal swab) test by taking a photo of the results and uploading it with their phone.

Alongside volunteer testing, and as part of UniCoV, campus wastewater from NUIG, TCD, UCC and UCD will be analysed at the UCD wastewater surveillance laboratory for traces of Covid-19.

Lead by Professor Wim Meijer, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, the waste-water testing follows on from a successful pilot scheme earlier this year that showed a very close correlation between the presence of SARS-CoV-2 material in sewage and the daily number of new Covid-19 cases in south Dublin and Wicklow.

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While the opening of universities is not contingent on the success of the UniCoV scheme, it is hoped if the feasibility and benefits of rapid testing can be proven, the research could be a significant tool in halting limiting the spread of COVID-19 by allowing experts to make informed decisions about the use of rapid tests.

Simon Harris, Higher Education Minister said that Uni CoV testing could “potentially be an important element” of the Government’s plan for a safe return to on-site teaching, research and study.

“If proven through piloting and feasibility, rapid antigen testing, saliva testing and wastewater testing could provide additional elements to the control strategy set out in national guidance.

“None of these replace the public health advice but could be significant 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,” added Minister Harris.

Those interested in taking part in the scheme can sign up at www.unicov.org.

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