The University of Southampton has partnered with Southampton City Council and the NHS to deliver a weekly home-testing programme for COVID-19. Participants will receive a saliva sampling kit, which will be collected from homes or returned to a prescribed location weekly. Test results will be sent to participants within 48 hours of collection/return, and details of those who test positive will be shared with the NHS Test and Trace programme to begin contact tracing immediately. Registration for participants began two weeks ago, with the first batch of sampling kits being delivered last week.
Members of Southampton’s GP practice workforce, an estimated 800 people, have been invited to take part in the programme pilot. Some of Southampton’s essential key workers and University of Southampton students and staff have also received an invitation. Participants who test negative can continue their daily work and activities under Government guidelines, while those who test positive will receive household isolation advice.
The programme marks an advance in COVID-19 testing and a leading role for Southampton in evaluating a regular, non-invasive approach. “The non-invasive saliva test allows easier testing of people of all ages and ensures that everyone in the household gets tested regardless of symptoms and on a regular basis,” said Dr Debbie Chase, Interim Director of Public Health at the Council. Progress will be assessed in real time jointly by the Partnership and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Resilience Forum, with their findings reported to the central Government to inform the prospects of wider testing across the city and the UK. In the later stages of the programme, it is expected that approximately 14,000 participants will be involved through the wider Hampshire network of public services.
Experts from the University of Southampton will also analyse data in real time, to understand the virus’ spread and inform an appropriate exit strategy for the nationwide lockdown. “What we learn here will be of critical importance to other areas and the nation as the UK looks to safely re-open the economy and restore near normal social activities. Social distancing, hand washing and fabric face coverings in public places will all continue to be important, but regular testing would go a long way to helping people feel, and be, safer,” said Professor Keith Godfrey, from the University’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.
Samples will be tested in the Weybridge laboratories of The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) with Optigene’s COVID-19 LAMP test, working alongside the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.