Update from College Secretary, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences & Professor of Molecular Diagnostics and Director, College Health Service to students and staff
10 September 2020
Dear students and staff,
We are learning all the time about how best to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. One clear, indisputable lesson is that speedy and widescale testing and contact tracing help prevent the virus from spreading. To this end, Trinity plans to introduce two significant measures to make College a safer place for all of us. Taken together with public health advice - social distancing, regular hand washing, hygiene advice when coughing or sneezing and wearing face coverings - these measures will help to prevent the virus spreading as the autumn begins.
Diagnostic testing for people with symptoms in conjunction with HSE
The first measure is in collaboration with the HSE: we are setting up a COVID-19 testing service for students and staff who develop symptoms or who are identified as close contacts of confirmed cases. This free on-campus testing facility will be up and running in time for semester 1. It should help reduce the risk of cluster development in the College community.
Anyone who develops symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 should ring the College Health Centre at 01-896 1556. A College Health GP will ascertain if you should have a COVID-19 test. In the majority of cases, the test can then be carried out the same day with the swabs being sent to the HSE Laboratories to determine whether you have the virus. By having the testing centre on campus, you can be tested in the most timely manner available. Trinity is currently the only university in Ireland to offer this service. A location on campus has been identified and the systems, staff and training needed are being put in place at the moment. Further information will be made available when the system is ready to start.
It is vital to emphasise that you must still isolate yourself at home if you suspect you have the virus and are awaiting a result. The testing centre on campus will ensure you get a quick result but it would be most unwise to meet friends, family or fellow students if you believe you are sick. The vast majority of tests conducted nationally are negative. If you test negative, you can quickly return to normal life. If the test is positive, you will have to follow HSE recommendations and isolate for 14 days.
Screening for people with or without symptoms
The second measure is the proposed introduction of regular screening, on a pilot basis, for those living in rooms in College or in Trinity Hall. The exact details still need to be decided and ethics approval needs to be secured but the outlines are clear. The pilot programme will enable all students and staff living in College accommodation to be tested regularly if they want to participate using a simple and non-invasive test. Anybody who tests positive will be informed of the result and will have a consultation with a College Health GP to decide on further action.
The science 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. While we hope that all residents will participate, screening will be voluntary; it should be regarded as an extra measure to prevent the spread of the virus. It can never replace common sense and vigilance. 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. Depending on the experience gained in the pilot, the screening may be extended to other groups of students and staff and, in due course, could potentially be extended to the whole college community.
If you think you have the virus, please still ring the College Health Centre immediately. Be careful to social distance, minimise the number of contacts you have and ensure you observe all the rules related to living together in close quarters. However, 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.
It won’t necessarily be easy to administer and may take a few weeks to organise but we are confident that a dedicated HSE testing centre on the campus and screening of those living in the College, together with the observance of all the other rules, will make the College a safer place in the months ahead for all of us.
As you will be aware, face coverings are now mandatory for all teaching and learning events for all students and staff, in all the Libraries and in internal public spaces on campus. Please comply with this requirement in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
For more information and updates, please see our dedicated COVID-19 webpage at www.tcd.ie/about/coronavirus
Please stay safe, stay well.
John Coman, Secretary to the College
Prof Orla Sheils, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences & Professor of Molecular Diagnostics
Dr David McGrath, Director, College Health Service