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July Minister Harris urges staff and students to join pilot rapid testing project on four college campuses
Minister Harris urges staff and students to join pilot rapid testing project on four college campuses
NUI Galway partners with Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University College Cork
Staff and students encouraged to log onto www.unicov.org
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD has today urged 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 and University College Cork.
Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “I recently published Government’s plan for a safe return to on-site teaching, research and study this semester.
“Rapid testing may potentially be an important element of this plan. 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. You can sign up at www.unicov.org, it’s easy, it’s secure and you’ll 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 www.unicov.org website. 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.
Along with Professor Smyth, Principal Investigators on the project include Professor Charles Spillane, Ryan Institute NUI Galway; Professors Kingston Mills and Orla Sheils, Trinity College Dublin; Professor Mary Horgan and Dr John MacSharry, University College Cork; Professors Patrick Mallon and Grace Mulcahy, University College Dublin. Additional UniCoV collaborators are based at these institutions and also at the University of Limerick and Teagasc. The complementary skills and expertise of the experts involved from across Irish universities form a strong and critical network to conduct this important research study.
NUI Galway President, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said: “NUI Galway is delighted to play a leading role in this hugely important pilot project along with our partner institutions and the HSE West. NUI Galway’s research community has played a significant part in providing healthcare solutions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and this multi-institutional research collaboration will be crucial to working towards a return to campus for our students and staff and also in keeping them and the wider Galway community safe from the virus.
“I commend the vision and work of Professor Breda Smyth, Professor Charles Spillane from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway and our partner institutions in piloting UniCoV on our campuses. This project draws on scientific and public health research excellence and expertise from across Ireland to develop a SARS-CoV-2 infection rapid testing surveillance system that will provide evidence for the most efficient and effective testing method in different settings and inform the development of early warning systems to assist with the management of future outbreak prevention and response. As a university, we are committed to respecting and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of both our campus and external community. UniCoV demonstrates how we are all working together to address the health challenges created by the pandemic to make our campus and wider community a safe place towards combatting Covid-19."