A rapid COVID-19 test that provides results within 30 minutes is being tested on student volunteers at Merton College and St. Hilda’s, as well as Durham University. 

The Feasibility and Acceptability of community COVID-19 rapid Testing Strategies (FACTS) study will assess the feasibility of the self-administered Lateral Flow Test in tracking COVID-19 in pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. This is part of the government’s “Operation Moonshot”, aiming for regular mass testing to reduce the spread of the virus. 

The Lateral Flow Immunoassay Test (LFIA) requires individuals to take a swab of their nose and throat and insert it into a tube of liquid for a short time, with a result provided after 20 to 30 minutes. They are aimed at potentially supplementing, rather than replacing, the standard use of RT-PCR (reference test polymerase chain reaction) tests.

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Students will be asked to self-administer the LFIAs each week. Students have been provided with an explanatory video, will be offered an opportunity to ask researchers questions and are free to withdraw without giving any reason at any time. If they are unable or would not like to self-administer the test, students will be asked to attend a screening clinic “where the FACTS team will conduct the test and record the results”, explains the Participant Information Sheet.

As well as this, students will be asked to track their symptoms daily using the study’s app, and to conduct some five-minute online surveys on “the acceptability of the testing strategy”. The Participation Information Sheet explains that “a subset of participants [will also be asked] to take part in an interview to explore their experience and views of testing, what worked, and what could be done better.”

The pilot study is being organised by researchers at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, in partnership with the Department of Health and Public Health England. It is receiving funding internally from the University. LFTs have been validated and undergone clinical testing. All participation in the study by students is voluntary. The study has been also been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee,

Professor Irene Tracy, Warden at Merton College, said in an email to students: “We believe this project will be an important contribution to national and international efforts to defeat the current pandemic and its wider consequences. The learnings will also be important in preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics.”

One student who had decided to take part explained why they got involved: “I wanted to do my bit, and I thought that it was incredible that I could be a part of something like this. It was a no-brainer, especially considering I’ve got vulnerable family members at home and I want to do what I can to make the world a little bit safer for them again.”

Students who receive a positive Lateral Flow Test result will be required to take the standard RT-PCR (reference test polymerase chain reaction) test via the NHS or Oxford University’s Early Alert Service, and self-isolate as necessary.

Oxford University have said that “it is hoped it [the LFIA test] will help identify those most at risk of spreading COVID-19 (those who are infectious, but not aware of this) and enable them to alter their behaviour accordingly, thereby breaking the chains of transmission and reducing the infection rate.”

The Pro-Vice Chancellor said that if the study proves effective, they aim to extend it across the whole University.