Covid-19 rapid testing to be rolled out in colleges and universities
Rapid testing could allow the safe return of students to campus, says Simon Harris
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris: ‘I want to get these pilots in place, get them in place quickly, so that we can learn from them and be ready for the new college year.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Rapid antigen testing for Covid-19 will be rolled out in colleges and universities to allow students to safely return to campus, according to the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.
On Thursday, the Department of Health published an expert report on rapid antigen testing.
It recommended widespread rapid testing in universities, colleges, Institutes of Technology and further-education establishments, especially in student accommodation.
On foot of this report, Mr Harris announced on Friday that four rapid-testing pilot schemes will be rolled out across four college campuses.
“I want to get these pilots in place, get them in place quickly, so that we can learn from them and be ready for the new college year,” he said.
“It is an absolute priority of mine, and of Government, to make sure that students next year have a much better on-site experience than they had this year.
“College is not something that’s meant to be done at the corner of a kitchen table or in a box room.
“We’ve got to look at how we can get our students back onto college campuses in September and October when the college year begins.”
Mr Harris said he believed that rapid testing, alongside the vaccination programme, could be a major help to getting students back on campus.
He added that some universities were already conducting research on rapid Covid testing. “It is intended to extend these studies in the coming weeks in line with the report’s recommendations.”
More detail on the plan is expected to be released in the next few days.
The report on rapid testing also recommended that pilot programmes should be established in schools immediately, and if successful, widespread rapid testing could be deployed in all schools by September 2021.
The report also said that these antigen tests, which offer rapid results and can detect when a person is infectious, should be used in addition to the more sensitive PCR tests used by the HSE.
Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin has said that rapid antigen testing will add an extra layer of protection in the fight against Covid-19.
While there were valid concerns about the false sense of security such testing sometimes generated, if rapid tests were carried out two to three times a week it could be very effective as it would pick up the presence of the virus during the peak of infection, he explained.
Rapid antigen testing could be used in schools, universities, workplaces and at sporting and cultural events, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
The system was already being used in meat plants in Ireland and in other countries. “It Is not being used as widely as it could in Ireland.”
People could have a negative rapid test result, but still be incubating the virus which was why they should be tested two to three times a week, he said. “If it’s being done frequently it will be picked up. It will take infected people out of the system.”
“There are huge advantages [to using rapid antigen testing] as an extra layer of protection.”