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Rapid antigen testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection in a university setting in Ireland: Learning from a 6-week pilot study
2022-06, Barry, Gerald, McCarney, Catherine, Farrelly, Marc, Breathnach, Rory, Mooney, Carmel T., More, Simon John
Objectives: With the ongoing circulation of SARS-CoV-2 in countries across the world it is essential to identify effective ways to reduce the risk of infection while allowing society to function as close to ‘normal’ as possible. Serial testing using rapid lateral flow antigen tests is a possible way to do this by screening populations in a targeted way, identifying infectious (both symptomatic and asymptomatic) people and removing them from circulation while infectious. To make rapid antigen testing effective, high levels of participation are important. This study was designed to evaluate the establishment of a testing programme in a university setting and assess some of the factors that impact participation in such a study among both staff and students. Study design: Observational, survey. Methods: A trial period of SARS-CoV-2 rapid testing using the Abbott Panbio rapid antigen test was set up and staff and students based in the University College Dublin Veterinary Hospital were asked to take part voluntarily for 6 weeks. Following the trial period, we used a questionnaire to evaluate satisfaction and to understand some reasons behind participation or lack thereof. Results: Overall, almost all respondents to the survey stated that they were happy with having a testing programme present in the workplace and it helped to reduce anxiety associated with COVID-19. Findings indicated that staff and students did not participate equally in the voluntary testing programme. The findings also highlighted that intrinsic motivations and extrinsic motivations for participation differ. For example, participation among staff was much higher than among students, motivational messaging focused on protecting others did not resonate with students as much as staff, convenience was a key factor driving participation in both cohorts and the pressure of being forced to miss class (if positive) close to exam time provided motivation to students to avoid testing. Conclusions: Introducing antigen testing into a workplace helped to reduce overall anxiety associated with the potential impact of COVID-19, but achieving good participation was challenging. Participation is key to a successful, campus wide antigen testing programme but reaching high levels of participation is not straightforward and can not be taken for granted. Different motivations drive participation in different cohorts and different messaging/incentivisation is needed to encourage participation in those different cohorts. The findings reported here should inform any SARS-CoV-2 testing programme that will run in these types of settings in the future.