University to develop asymptomatic testing service to help control hidden spread of COVID-19


September 15th, 2020

The University has today announced that it is developing an in-house testing service specifically designed to tackle asymptomatic transmission amongst students and staff.

This follows on from the success of two pilot schemes we have run over the last six months looking both at scientific innovations in the testing process as well as providing asymptomatic testing for the University’s Vet School.

The University has been working with local public health, Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and NHS Test and Trace to develop this Service, which will support efforts to control outbreaks amongst university communities and become operational at the beginning of October, with an aim of increasing capacity over time.

It will provide us and local public health with extra testing capacity beyond the national system. As a priority, the Service will be deployed in a targeted fashion to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 amongst those individuals who might be positive, but don’t have symptoms. Participation in university testing will be on a voluntary basis, with any asymptomatic positive cases discovered by the Service then confirmed by an official government test, linked to NHS Test and Trace.

The Asymptomatic Testing Service will be funded and run by the University, using many of the world-class research experts and scientific facilities that were deployed during the first wave to support local and national efforts to tackle the pandemic.

It has been designed to be complementary to the national testing strategy and, should help reduce the number of asymptomatic tests being put through the Government’s ‘Pillar Two’ (testing in the community) pathway.

The University is also actively exploring how we can extend the Service to cover the students and staff of other local university partners.

The Service is just one of several measures being put in place by the University of Nottingham in partnership with local public health and the NHS to help manage the return of students to campus and the city this autumn. These measures also include:

  • two ‘walk-through’ Local Testing Solutions (LTS’) will be based on University Park Campus and Jubilee Campus. These are semi-permanent swab-test collection facilities, which are funded and managed under Pillar Two, with tests processed by the Government’s Lighthouse Labs. Slots will be pre-bookable online and both facilities will be open to staff, students and members of the local community. The LTS’ are expected to be in place by the beginning of October.
  • putting in place improved contact tracing technology, using its Eduroam Wi-Fi network to help support local public health and the national NHS Test and Trace in identifying close contacts of positive cases on campus.
  • the University will be helping students on and off campus to isolate through the provision of support packages, which will include a range of measures including meals being taken to students’ doors in halls of residence, as well as providing essential items, guidance and support for those living in private accommodation in the wider community.

The project team who have been working on developing the Asymptomatic Testing Service include Professor Chris Denning, Director of the University’s Biodiscovery Institute and world-leading Virologist, Professor Jonathan Ball, who said jointly:

“We firmly believe that the development of the Service will help control the spread of COVID-19 and keep our communities safe and well, whilst building on the scientific excellence of our institution to provide longer-term strategies for prevention”

Currently, COVID19 testing focusses on people who exhibit symptoms. However, we know that significant numbers of infected people, especially the young, are asymptomatic yet can potentially spread virus to others. The type of surveillance and enhanced testing that we are about to embark upon will reduce potential spread and help keep our university and the wider community safe”.

Richard Mitchell, Chief Executive of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:

“We are delighted to be working with the University of Nottingham to support them in establishing their Asymptomatic Testing Service. We recognise how closely intertwined public services are across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and the safe return of students in Nottingham will be of benefit to us all.”

Sarah Carter, Senior Responsible Officer for Testing Strategy for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire area said of the deployment of the Local Testing Solutions:

“The delivery of Local Testing Solutions in 2 campus locations at the University of Nottingham will support and maintain the safe return of students to our area. We are delighted to have contributed to making this happen, and to be working collaboratively with the University and Public Health colleagues to ensure that our students are welcomed back and have the right level of support during their academic year.”

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