Mass Covid Testing Begins in ‘Hotspots’ and For Students

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Two new mass testing programmes have begun in an effort to reduce Coronavirus infection rates before Christmas.

Residents in what is considered the five coronavirus hotspots are being tested, they include areas in Glasgow, Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, and Renfrewshire.

Scotland’s university students are also being tested to ensure they are safe to return home.

It is though the community testing programme could cut the chain of transmission by identifying asymptomatic cases of coronavirus, as the testing areas have been based in parts of Scotland where public health officials consider the numbers to be “stubbornly high”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the testing areas would help inform decisions about expanding community testing.

She said: “It is important to stress that any test will only tell you if you are positive at that point in time when you are being tested- they will not necessarily show up if you are still incubating the virus.

“So they do not mean you can or should stop following all the safety measures in place.”

University Students Asked to Get Tested

The testing of students is part of a separate programmed to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus as many plan to return home for Christmas.

All students are being asked to take two rapid Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests before travelling home.

LFD tests are rapid turnaround tests and samples are process on-site with no lab required. Results of the test are available within half an hour.

Despite allowing the introduction of mass testing they are not  as accurate as the PCR tests that are used at NHS test centres.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told parliament LFD tests had an overall sensitivity of 76.8%- meaning the test will identify more than seven in 10 positive cases of the virus.

Students are being encouraged to take two tests to increase the chances of the virus being detected.

Sturgeon said the tests: “produce results much more quickly, but any positive result would be confirmed by a PCR Test.

However, the LFD tests being given to students has been criticised by professionals.

Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme they can result in 50% of cases being missed, leading to a “false reassurance”

“The other big issue for students is they’re not being given good information about the purpose of test, what a test means and the fact it could result in a false reassurance and a false negative.”

But Scotland’s national clinical direct, Prof Jason Leitch said the LFR test could detect four out of five positive cases, despite the test’s sensitivity being between 50% and 70%.

“There is an element of false reassurance… but this is the tech we have available. So until the tech gets better, surely we use the tech as good as we’ve got for the best purpose it has?”

Professor Pollock advised students to self-isolate if they were returning home especially if returning home to vulnerable people.

But Professor Leitch told BBC Scotland students were not being told to isolate for two weeks when they returned home: “as that would be much of a Christmas”

“The guidance does tell them to turn down their social interaction now in order to be safe when they go home…

“Testing is not the umbrella around which we’ve based our student guidance, quite the opposite. The student guidance is all about communication, empathy, working with the student population- and an element of that will be testing” he added.

Universities minister Richard Lochhead said all 19 higher education institutions in Scotland were taking part in the testing programme, with some sharing facilities.

He said the aims was to minimise the risk of students taking the virus back home with them.

Lochhead said there was a good probability the virus would be caught by the test but other safety measures such as limiting mixing with other students were also very important.

The University of St Andrews opened their testing facility over the weekend where Vice Principal Alastair Merrill said would be able to process 1,500 LFR tests a day.

The University of Stirling opened their testing centre on Monday (30th)  on campus which will remain open until the 8th December.

Stirling Union President Amy Smith taking part in the LFR tests. Credit: – University of Stirling Twitter

Fourth year student, Jessie Hosking, 21, who studies Journalism at the University of Stirling,  went for a test at the encouragement of her parents.

Hosking said: “I thought it was really well organised and I felt very safe, particularly as I was quite apprehensive about it.”

She also said going for a test made her feel more comfortable as she will be getting the train home to London for Christmas:

“It just made me feel more comfortable about going home and knowing id had the test and I would be doing my bit to keep other people safe.”

Jessie added she thinks people need to use their common sense to go for a test because you want to protect your friends and family. Her test results came back within the hour: “I wasn’t sure whether to get one at first but I’m now glad that I did.”

First year student Finola Clarke also went for a test before returning home to Newcastle.

She said: “I think it’ll be beneficial as the results are quick and I got it done so I can go home knowing I’m not taking the virus with me.

“The whole process took about 10 minutes overall and I got my test results about an hour later,.

“I’ve heard that  these tests are less accurate so maybe not the best but you do two tests to make sure so there is pros and cons.”

There is hope that a similar approach to mass testing could be an important step in ensuring the safe return of students back to university after Christmas.

Feature Image Credit: University of St Andrews News

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