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Durham University

Notices

Lateral Flow Test pilot

Participation in Lateral Flow Test (LFT) pilot

Statement published: Friday 23 October

Durham University will take part in a pilot of a new Covid-19 testing technology, it has announced today.

The LFT involves one of a number new testing technologies for the Covid-19 virus currently being piloted across the UK, with the aim of identifying those most at risk of spreading Covid-19 (those who are infectious, but not aware of this) and enabling them to alter their behaviour accordingly, thereby breaking the chains of transmission and reducing the infection rate.

The test aims to identify whether an individual has sufficient viral load, high enough levels of Covid-19 in their body, to make them infectious to others (although they may appear asymptomatic).

The initiative is being developed by the University in partnership with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the University of Oxford (UoO) and Public Health England (PHE).

The technology has already been validated – clinical testing phases are all complete. The next phase of the pilot, involving Durham University, is aimed at developing understanding of where to best use this technology and how it could be operationalised. Durham University is contributing academic expertise and, as the pilot begins, on-the-ground experience to the development of these key resources.

Staff and students will receive training in how to take the test, process the test and read the result. The test involves applying a swab to the throat and nose. The sample is processed by the user, on-site, and the results are available in 20 to 30 minutes. The test should only be taken following training.

The University is working closely with Durham County Council and other local partners to ensure that the Durham pilot is run in the best interests of its staff, students and the local community and assists the effort to limit and reduce the spread of Covid-19 in County Durham and North East England.

Initially, all students ‘living in’ at two of the University’s 17 Colleges*, Van Mildert College and Stephenson College, plus all staff working at those two Colleges, will be offered the opportunity to participate in the LFT pilot. This will commence next week (week beginning Monday 26 October).

Case numbers at Van Mildert and Stephenson Colleges have been rising and it is hoped that the LFT pilot will assist in reducing the spread of Covid-19, so that the University can better enable students to access the best possible education and wider student experience. This will also enhance staff safety. Also, the two Colleges have different profiles – catered/self-catered, different household formats – allowing further understanding of the protocols of applying the test.

The test currently more commonly used in the NHS is the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. All positive LFTs in the pilot will require a confirmatory PCR test in accordance with current public health guidance. These are readily available.

Participation is entirely voluntary, on an “opt in” basis, and individuals may withdraw from the pilot at any point.

Staff and students will receive training in how to take the test, process the test and read the result. The test involves applying a swab to the throat and nose. The sample is processed by the user, on-site, and the results are available in 20 to 30 minutes. The test should only be taken following training.

Further details are being communicated to those directly involved.

Subject to a successful outcome, the testing may be rolled out more broadly across the University and asymptomatic students and staff may be invited to take part in repeated testing on a frequent basis. Any rollout would be subject to further consultation and agreement by University Executive and Council.

Associate Professor Camila Caiado from Durham University is the scientific lead for the project and clinical oversight is being provided by Dr Lennard YW Lee, Academic Clinical Lecturer and Medical Oncology Specialist Registrar from the University of Oxford.

Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) at Durham University, said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Durham University has acted with the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the communities of which we are part as our top priority, and we will continue to do so.

“Since being invited to participate in the LFT pilot, we have liaised closely with local and national partners and student leaders to ensure that our involvement is in the best interests of our students, staff and our County and region’s effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Professor Jacqui Ramagge, Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science at Durham University and project sponsor, said: “We look forward to testing beginning shortly. As a responsible University, we are keen to do everything we can to support the local, national and international effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and we are proud to be involved.

“We continue to urge all members of our community to follow all Government and University guidance on Covid-19, which is available at www.durham.ac.uk/coronavirus.”

Amanda Healy, Durham County Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “We continue to work closely with Durham University and Public Health England in managing the current response to positive coronavirus cases among students. We have a wide range of actions in place, which are being overseen by the Outbreak Control Team, including access to testing and the training of key staff to support the outbreak.

“We hope this new testing will add an additional element to our existing outbreak control and help to reduce the number of cases, not just within the university, but also the local community.

“I’d once again encourage everyone to please book a test and stay at home if you have any symptoms of coronavirus. Following the latest advice of handwashing, social distancing and face coverings will also help to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.”

*Durham University operates a Collegiate system with 17 Colleges, all but two of which operate under the direction of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience). Two Colleges, St John’s College and St Chad’s College, are autonomous institutions. All students are a member of one of the Colleges. Some students ‘live in’ their College, while others ‘live out’ in private accommodation.

Additional information

What happens with the results:

If a student/staff member returns a positive LFT result…

They will be required to self-isolate, undertake a PCR test and follow Government and University guidance. In the case of a student, their whole College household** will be required to self-isolate.

**For the 2020/21 academic year, students ‘living in’ in a Durham University College are part of a College household of up to 18 students, with very few exceptions for operational reasons. These figures were agreed with Durham County Council’s Public Health Team.

If a student/staff member returns a negative LFT test result…

Staff and students will continue as normal unless a member of their household tests positive. In this case, their whole household would be required to self-isolate and follow Government and University guidance.