Trinity launches Ireland’s first on-campus testing programme

Devin Sean Martin

Trinity College (TCD) is the first Irish third level institute to launch an on-campus Covid-19 testing programme available for students and staff.

The programme is currently for symptomatic cases only, but the school hopes to expand it and eventually offer optional tests to all TCD students.

“It involved quite a lot of coordination with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and with our own health centre, but it could eventually help us get a better understanding of the level of infection on campus,” said TCD Spokesperson Catherine O’Mahony.

Despite the sheer scale of the project, O’Mahony said they had no trouble getting it off the ground.

“There weren’t any particular difficulties or setbacks,” she said. “Some training had to be done, and we needed to get supplies for PPE from the HSE, but beyond that, not much.”

The testing scheme, which is a collaboration between the HSE and TCD, is composed of staff from both organizations.

TCD is employing two nurses and an administrative person at the health centre, while the HSE is handling all lab work and contact tracing.

“This information will be critical in identifying potential local clusters and allowing actions to be taken locally in response to new cases,” the college wrote in a statement.

The Irish Times published an article about the project in September during it’s planning stage, saying it would be among the first large-scale testing programmes in the country outside the core programme run by the HSE.

However, the current state of the program is only the tip of the iceberg compared to how Trinity’s on-campus testing could evolve.

The college is planning to launch a large scale testing initiative as part of a study to understand how present the virus is on campus, which will allow administrators to make more informed decisions about campus safety.

The optional tests will be conducted through a saliva sample, rather than a nasal swab, making them less reliable.

Therefore, the tests administered for the study will not be “diagnostic tests designed to confirm current infection for an individual,” but rather as a piece of a massive data sample, according to a press release from TCD.

When Covid-19 is detected in an individual’s saliva, they will be notified and encouraged to take a diagnostic test, the press release said.

Those who’s sample is negative will not receive any notification.

TCD may publish the final report of the results to an academic journal, but all identities of individuals tested will be kept anonymous.

The major testing feat comes just after the HSE reached peak testing capacity in September, according to the Irish Times.

So far, TCD remains the only Irish college to launch a testing scheme, and DCU has no plans of pursuing.

“At the moment there is no word of [testing],” said Jessie Byrne, head of DCU’s student health centre.

“I haven’t heard that it would be something that we could be considering, but it could be something that we may have to bring in” she said.

Byrne said that the HSE can still come to campus accommodation and test people there if the patient cannot travel.

Jose Machaieie, who is doing his masters in public policy at DCU and is residing in College Park, said he would welcome a testing program at DCU.

“I think its a good idea,” he said. “Its difficult for all students to all have Covid tests taken, but if it’s protecting the community, I will support it.”

He added, though, that a school-wide testing program will not make him feel any safer on campus.

“You can take the test today and get Covid tomorrow,” he said. “It’s very difficult to know if someone has Covid even if they took the test at some point.”

When asked why TCD is so far ahead of other colleges in terms of on-campus testing, O’Mahony said: “We were the first people to think of it, and first to approach the HSE on it.”

Devin Sean Martin

Image Credit: Mitch Hodge Unsplash