Trinity College Dublin has approved a pilot Covid-19 screening programme for students and staff living on its campus in the capital, which may be extended to the entire college if successful.
The testing programme was approved by the university, and will involve the regular screening of people living in rooms in the college or in Trinity Hall, its student accommodation centre in south Dublin.
In a letter sent to staff and students on Thursday, the university said the screening programme, along with a dedicated HSE testing centre to be established on campus, “will make the college a safer place in the month ahead of us”.
While the HSE testing centre in TCD will be focused on those who are symptomatic, the screening programme is designed as a wider surveillance of the population in an effort to detect the disease before it becomes apparent.
“This extra layer of testing, which is unique to Trinity, is likely to reveal any cluster of cases quickly and allow the college authorities to move quickly to protect others,” the university wrote in its letter to students and staff.
It emerged last week that Trinity is considering widespread testing programmes, possibly including self-testing booths on campus, in an effort to control Covid-19 as it prepares to reopen to students this month.
This pilot project, if successful, may be a precursor to a wider programme, students and staff were told.
TCD said the programme, which will be voluntary, is supported by scientific evidence which “suggests that this limited testing of people living in close quarters will help to prevent outbreaks by alerting people who may have the virus but no symptoms”.
Prof Colm Bergin, TCD's clinical professor of medicine who also sits on the National Public Health Emergency Team, has said any screening programme should be an awareness initiative to ensure people do not think it negates the need to get tested if they become symptomatic.
The email to staff states that the screening programme “should be regarded as an extra measure to prevent the spread of the virus”.
“It can never replace common sense and vigilance,” it states.
While the exact details are still be decided, it will be based on a “simple and non-invasive test” and those testing positive will have a consultation with a GP to decide the next steps.
“This programme will inform the national discussion on population-based screening and will support the continuation of activities in Trinity in a responsible, safe way while protecting our students and staff,” the email states.