In an interview with The University Times earlier this week, Trinity immunologist Luke O’Neill advised that College test all staff and students for the coronavirus twice weekly. A familiar and reassuring voice throughout the pandemic, O’Neill asserted that frequent testing was the best way to minimise the chances of outbreaks on campus.
Of course, it is not exactly new information that frequent testing is the best way to contain the virus and ensure that transmission is minimised, especially given the asymptomatic aspect of the disease.
College has already taken steps to ensure that staff and students have access to testing facilities – such as the on-site coronavirus testing facilities set to open before the beginning of first term and isolation rooms being provided in Trinity’s buildings for staff and students who develop coronavirus symptoms on campus.
David McGrath, director of the College Health Service, told this paper that the testing facilities would “as far as possible reduce the development of clusters within the College particularly within student accommodation”.
However, these on-campus test facilities will only be used to test students who have displayed symptoms. Students who are asymptomatic could unknowingly be passing on the virus. As McGrath said, students have a responsibility not to infect the public, but they can’t take precautions if they don’t know whether they are infected.
A Science Foundation Ireland report launched last week revealed that Ireland ranked number one worldwide for immunology research in 2019. With Trinity considered the centre of immunology research in Ireland, College has no shortage of expert advice to consult and take guidance from when it comes to drawing up a testing and containment strategy for campus next year.
Trinity put public safety first when they made the decision to close before other universities when the coronavirus started to take hold in Ireland last March. An on-campus test site and isolation facilities are great first steps in ensuring that campus can reopen safely. However, if College wants to continue to lead the way in university health guidelines, then there needs to be further consideration of testing for all staff and students, not just those with symptoms.