University of Limerick is to facilitate on campus COVID-19 testing by HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare in a bid to prevent further transmission among the student population.
The move is in response to a rise in cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks in the Castletroy area of Limerick city, believed to be associated with students living in off-campus accommodation.
UL has a strong relationship with Public Health Mid-West and An Garda Siochana, and consistently liaises and works with them to remind students of their personal responsibility to follow government and institutional guidelines.
UL President Professor Kerstin Mey has again strongly urged students to understand their own individual roles in keeping our communities safe and to be aware of the consequences of breaking current government COVID-19 restrictions.
The Department of Public Health Mid-West has seen some evidence in recent weeks of an increase in COVID-19 cases among the student population living in the immediate vicinity of the campus – largely based around simple household visits.
In the next few weeks it is crucial that community transmission is suppressed to the maximum to ensure the safe reopening of society and to protect the population while the immunisation programme is being implemented. The Department of Public Health is aggressively investigating and managing clusters such as this one to enable this to happen.
As such, UL has moved quickly to facilitate free on-campus COVID-19 tests to students who will be invited to register without needing to display symptoms of the virus at a testing centre being established on the UL campus this week.
“As a result of constant engagement and close ties between UL and Public Health Mid-West we are in a position to act very swiftly now at the first signs of a possible increase of cases among students living off campus,” said UL President Professor Kerstin Mey.
“We have reduced on campus activity to approximately 2% of what would normally take place so there are barely any students or staff on campus under Level 5 restrictions. Where we can put any further measure in place to protect our own and the surrounding communities we will do so,” said Professor Mey.
Dr Marie Casey, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, welcomed the ongoing cooperation with the University and the swift response to any potential rise in cases.
“Public Health Mid-West is seeing a noticeable increase in COVID-19 clusters among the student population, particularly in housing estates in the Castletroy area with links to some households in Limerick city, as a result of household transmission in the past three weeks,” explained Dr Casey.
“The student population is unique insofar that they can often live with a number of housemates in large households. Some students have part-time jobs, and many will go home on the weekends to visit family and friends. With the onset of the dominant UK COVID-19 variant, which is more transmissible than the original strain, there is now a high level of risk of transmission in the student community.
“Because many young people will carry the virus without any symptoms, this presents an increased risk of infection to household, workplace and family contacts. Outbreaks arising out of household transmission is starting to become a worrying trend across the Mid-West, at a crucial time when we need to suppress the virus’ spread in the community.
“We are urging everyone in the region to avoid household visits and social gatherings of any kind, as we have seen far too many times how a single episode of social contact has led to serious illness and death,” added Dr Casey.
Students at UL have been repeatedly advised to follow public health guidelines, to download the COVID tracker app and to self-isolate if they display any symptoms while they await a test.
Overall, UL has seen a high level of compliance on campus with the COVID-19 precautions it has put in place.
Students have been contacted with full details on how to register online for an on-campus test. All tests will be processed by the HSE.