University College Cork (UCC) has launched a large-scale Covid-19 rapid testing project to inform the development of early warning systems.
As staff and students return to the Cork campus, more than 400 of them will take part in the comparative analysis of testing technologies for use in disease surveillance and prevention.
The project, UniCoV, will use rapid antigen testing, saliva-based PCR and LAMP testing, as well as wastewater surveillance.
Students completed more than 1,000 antigen tests and 775 PCR tests before returning to UCC with these numbers expected to rise significantly over the coming weeks.
"UniCoV, together with face masks, social distancing, and vaccination, is another layer to protect our community and to help prevent any asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2," UCC's Dr John MacSherry, a co-principal investigator on the UniCoV project explained.
Rapid tests have the potential to enhance and complement existing public health measures such as vaccination, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.
No vaccination is 100% effective so although over 90% of people in Ireland are fully vaccinated — with the number growing each day — there will still inevitably be some cases of the virus.
This is why monitoring projects such as UniCoV will have an important role moving forward.
The UCC study will need students and staff to join those already volunteering to take part.
Among those volunteers are Olympic medal-winning rowers Paul O'Donovan and Emily Hegarty and they are encouraging others to get involved as well.
"I’m delighted to take part in the UniCoV project it allows me to ensure I stay safe on campus and reassures me that we are doing the best we can to prevent the spread of Covid-19," said Paul.
Emily chose to take part to help keep UCC open and to help keep athletes and UCC teams safe both on and off the pitch.
"It is very easy and just takes a few minutes to complete an Antigen test and saliva sample twice a week," she said.
Volunteers are trained via video to perform rapid nasal swab antigen tests and provide saliva samples and these are taken on Mondays and Tuesdays.
After completing symptom and infectious-risk checks for Covid-19, volunteers upload an image of their antigen test and scan a barcode on their saliva sample tube via a mobile phone app developed specifically for the project.
The samples are dropped off at an on-campus drop off point and should a volunteer start displaying symptoms or receive a positive result for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus they will receive on-app and email advice on what to do.
As well as UCC, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and project lead National University of Ireland Galway are taking part in the UniCoV study.