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Inside mass testing centres at the University of Bristol

Since booking opened on Wednesday, 4,900 appointments have been booked by students to receive COVID-19 testing before they go home for Christmas.

By Robin Connolly, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Filiz Gurer, News Editor

Since booking opened on Wednesday, 4,900 appointments have been booked by students to receive COVID-19 testing before they go home for Christmas.

Across the University, there is capacity for 2,000 tests a day, with centres open at Wills Hall in Stoke Bishop, as well as the Anson Rooms in the Richmond Building.

Students who sign up for testing will receive lateral flow tests (LFTs), which are quicker than the standard polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests people may be familiar with.

Like PCR tests, LFTs are self-administered via a swab in the nose and throat that will then be placed into an extraction tube. However, these will be processed on-site by testing staff rather than be sent off to labs.

Consequently, these tests are much faster. Students will receive their test results within 2 hours, via text message or email.

Testing staff will include third- and fourth-year students from Bristol Medical School, who will be working in various roles across the testing centres.

Results can be gained quickly by pipetting the solution onto a ‘test strip’ (a similar process to that of a pregnancy test).

The tests are processed using a test strip or cartridge, similar to pregnancy tests | Data: Innova Medical Group, Design: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh

Caroline Relton, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said that it was important for students to understand how this form of testing is different to a PCR test. As lateral flow tests have proven to be less reliable than their PCR equivalents, Professor Relton made clear that students should be careful in the way they interpret the test result.

For example, in a sample of 5,000 tests with 100 positive cases, it has been suggested that a lateral flow test will pick up 75 per cent of those positive, whereas PCR tests will pick up 99 per cent.

Therefore, students must be aware when getting tested that there is considerable room for error.

Students have been encouraged to get tested twice, with three days in between each test. This is to ensure an extra level of security and assurance for students returning home.

The University has advised that students travel home within 24 hours of taking their second test.

If students receive a positive test result, they will then be asked to take a confirmatory PCR test to ensure that the result is correct. Students will also be expected to isolate for ten days from the date on which they received the positive lateral flow test.

With the University’s mobile testing units having closed last week, students will need to book their PCR test at a local testing site or get a postal test.

Speaking about testing, Professor Relton added: ‘What the lateral flow test doesn’t do is give you a cast iron guarantee that you don't carry an infection. It can give you some level of reassurance that you are low risk.

‘The day you take the test, it tells you that if you’re negative, you’re highly unlikely to have an infection. If you then go out and socialise and mix, then that reassurance evaporates.

‘So, it’s really important for students to combine this testing provision with all the measures that have been recommended along the way, including social distancing and mask wearing.’

Whilst the University would like to see an ‘extended testing period’, there is currently no provision for mass testing for students leaving Bristol after 9 December. Any decision taken on this matter will depend on guidance from Public Health England.

Paul Smith, Deputy Director of Estates and Head of Facilities Management told Epigram that the University is feeling ‘very encouraged,’ especially about the uptake of appointments so far.

‘It’s reassuring that students want the test, understand that it’s needed, and are taking measures to keep safe in their plans towards Christmas,' he said.

Students can book tests here.

Featured: Epigram / Filiz Gurer

Have you booked your tests yet? Let us know!