Top Trinity immunologist Luke O’Neill has advised that College test all staff and students for the coronavirus twice weekly.
In an interview with The University Times, O’Neill said that “the goal is very simple: we don’t want students getting infected in our university, and we don’t want our staff getting infected either”.
“What’s the best way to ensure that? It’s testing and isolating. That’s the best way to – almost – guarantee that.”
At present, Trinity has announced the creation of a coronavirus testing facility on campus. However, this facility will only test people who are showing symptoms.
O’Neill said that “because of the asymptomatic aspect of this disease, you can’t just be testing people with symptoms. You’ve got to really test everybody is the idea”.
Carriers of the virus can still be infectious, even if they are not showing symptoms or are presymptomatic.
O’Neill is advocating for booths or vans to be set up at the entrances to Trinity, where staff and students can be tested as they enter the College.
“For me the cost of doing this testing will save us money in the long run because we will make sure that our international student body keeps coming, because we’re giving them reassurance now that they’re not going to become infected while they’re in Trinity”, he said.
O’Neill also said that it is “very likely” that breakouts will occur on campus next year, which could lead to another lockdown of the College.
“Let’s say September/October you feel a bit sick and you wonder if it’s COVID. You get tested, now you’re positive. Every one of your contacts have to be traced”, he said.
O’Neill said that the best way to combat an outbreak is to “contact, trace, isolate”. If the contact tracing is not working, however, then the university will need to shut down, O’Neill said.
“Let’s see how it goes”, he said. “It has to be a work in progress. If we get to November and there’s loads of cases and this contact tracing isn’t working, the university has to go remote.”
As the number of cases in Dublin is comparatively low, O’Neill said, the chance of a student getting the virus is low.
However, he said, “I think we should take a lead on this and say: Look even if it is low in the community, we should have measures in place, where we test all of our students and staff. That’s the ultimate way to de-risk it”.
“We are a university. We’re working on COVID. We have a COVID-19 centre in Trinity. So we should be using best practice here and that best practice involves testing in my view”, he added.
O’Neill also stressed the importance of ventilation, limiting time spent in class, social distancing and mask wearing, adding that the reduction to one-metre social distancing was “OK” as long as other safety measures were in place.
O’Neill was also keen to stress that the “vast majority” of students will get over the virus, and that their main fear should be spreading it to “someone who is vulnerable”.