Why is the University of Edinburgh undertaking TestEd?
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented pressures and responsibilities on institutions such as the University of Edinburgh. Amongst the reasons that the pandemic has been so difficult to control are that up to 50% of cases of COVID-19 infection are asymptomatic and that a similar proportion of COVID-19 transmissions can derive from asymptomatic carriers. Current testing for COVID-19 is aimed primarily at symptomatic individuals, so asymptomatic cases are not detected and pre-symptomatic cases cannot be detected until symptoms have developed. Testing of only symptomatic cases cannot therefore reduce transmission from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals.
Large-scale screening of at risk populations for carriage of SARS-CoV-2, the causative COVID-19 virus, can, in theory, identify pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers, enabling control measures to prevent or minimise the risk of transmission from such carriers. However, in practice, current methods are either too labour intensive or too costly for large-scale testing. The TestEd project seeks to develop and establish accurate, cost-effective methods to test for and detect SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva of asymptomatic carriers of the virus in the University's staff and student populations. The overall aim is to minimise infection and transmission of infection within the University's staff and student population.
What is TestEd doing?
The aim of TestEd is to establish and evaluate a new high throughput method for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in participants' saliva, using a hypercube sample pooling strategy for detection. Testing will be carried out on a voluntary basis in the staff and student population of the University of Edinburgh. Testing at such a scale will be achieved by online recruitment and consent of participants, self-collection of saliva samples that will be barcoded at the point of collection, and electronic transmission of results to study participants. The aims of TestEd are to validate, implement and evaluate such a pipeline.
TestEd will also include a post-test questionnaire of participants to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and SARS-CoV-2 carrier testing on individuals' behaviour and compliance with guidelines and regulations, test and protect , and their responses to other preventive measures including vaccination. This online survey element of TestEd, also carried out on a voluntary basis, will help to inform any improvements that can be made to the testing regime once it is established, and to understand factors that could benefit participants and the wider population in future rounds of testing.