University College Cork (UCC) Olympic medal winning rowers Paul O’Donovan and Emily Hegarty have added their voices to a campaign to encourage students at the university to take part in a new Covid-19 rapid testing project.
With students returning to campus, the Quercus scholars have lent their backing to UniCoV, a project that will conduct a large-scale comparative analysis of testing technologies for use in disease surveillance and prevention in higher education settings.
These will include rapid antigen testing, saliva-based PCR and LAMP testing and wastewater surveillance.
The findings will inform the development of early warning systems for future disease outbreak prevention and control.
UCC is one of four universities taking part in UniCoV, along with TCD, UCD, and project lead NUI Galway.
As part of the project, over 1,000 antigen tests and 775 PCR tests were completed before students returned to campus, with these numbers set to rise significantly in the coming weeks.
So far over 425 participants have volunteered in UCC alone, including Emily and Paul.
Explaining her reasons for taking part, Emily said: “I’m participating in UniCoV as it will help to keep our athletes and UCC Teams safe both on and off the pitch!
"It is very easy and just takes a few minutes to complete an antigen test and saliva sample twice a week.”
Paul added: “I’m delighted to take part in the UniCoV project it allows me to ensure I stay safe on campus and reassures me that we are doing the best we can to prevent the spread of Covid-19”.
UCC's Dr John MacSharry, a co-Principal Investigator on the UniCoV project said that UniCoV together with face masks, social distancing and vaccination, is another layer to protect the community and to help prevent any asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2."
He said that rapid tests have the potential to enhance and complement the existing public health strategy for monitoring the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“While vaccination greatly reduces the chances of getting Covid-19, it doesn't prevent it completely - so monitoring projects such as UniCov have a role to play in the ongoing public health effort.
“This study will need members from the whole university community, students and staff, to get involved and volunteer to take part.”
Meanwhile, the Higher Education Minister has announced that pop-up vaccination centres will open across many college campuses when students return this month.
Simon Harris said the initiative is to make it “as easy as possible” for students and staff to get vaccinated against Covid.