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Public Policy|Southampton

Non-invasive saliva testing project

Saliva Testing

Phase 1- Southampton puts weekly COVID-19 saliva sampling to the test

Southampton will take a leading role in evaluating regular COVID-19 infection testing for whole households by assessing a new weekly home-testing approach using saliva samples.

The programme will assess the feasibility of carrying out home-testing on a large scale.

Southampton is evaluating a combination of weekly COVID-19 infection testing using a saliva sampling kit plus household isolation advice and linking to national contact tracing for those testing positive. If successful, this could pave the way for wider regular testing, helping to stop the spread of the virus.

A partnership of Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton and the NHS will lead the initiative alongside a wider Hampshire network of public services. The aim is to involve participants over the course of the programme so that around 14,000 are taking part in the later stages. 

“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. We will initially invite Southampton’s 800-strong GP-practice workforce to take part, followed by some other essential key workers and some University of Southampton staff and students as we evaluate the logistics needed for regular testing of entire households.” explains Dr Debbie Chase, Interim Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council.

Registration for these groups will begin this week, with the first saliva sample kits delivered a week later. Weekly samples will then be collected from homes or returned to an agreed location and participants will receive results no later than 48 hours.

The details of those who test positive will be shared with the NHS Test and Trace programme so contact tracing can start immediately.

The Partnership, alongside the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Resilience Forum will evaluate the results in real time and report their findings to central Government to inform future decisions about wider testing across the City and elsewhere in the UK.

“Southampton has always been a city of innovation, where our people have come together to overcome challenges. We’re a perfect place to conduct this evaluation, which could be a template for other areas around the country.” comments Councillor Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) will test samples in their Weybridge laboratories with Optigene's COVID-19 LAMP test, using an approach pioneered by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, working alongside the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

Those testing negative can continue to follow government guidelines in their daily activities and work.

“In a matter of days a partnership came together across local government and public services, our local hospital Trusts, GPs and the University of Southampton to push this forwards,” comments Dr Simon Bryant, Chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Resilience Framework’s Preventing Spread of Infection Cell.

“We need to look after all our people. Regular testing and contact tracing will help us protect the most vulnerable and enable us all to keep control of the rates of infection. Testing in this way would ensure we continue to have the capacity in our health system to look after those who need care from COVID as well as other illnesses, and keep our population safe,” comments Dr Derek Sandeman, Medical Director of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

Experts from the University of Southampton and other partners will analyse data in real time to understand the virus’ spread, and to simulate different scenarios for a sustained lifting of lockdown to help move our economy and society to a better state of normality.

“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.” comments Professor Keith Godfrey, of the University of Southampton MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.

“To do that analysis and learning, we’ve drawn together a wide range of expertise to identify what works, and what needs changing to inform test and trace efforts,  and the potential application of this approach, across the UK,” Professor Godfrey adds.

“The health, social and economic impacts of lockdown cannot be underestimated. Through this initiative we believe we can contribute to safely restoring economic activity during national relaxation measures, whilst enabling people to regain their lives, work and education.” Professor Godfrey explains.

“APHA is proud to provide specialist expertise to develop the testing approach and deliver the scalable laboratory testing needed to rapidly handle the thousands of tests involved” Comments Professor Ian H Brown, Head of Virology Department APHA



Phase 2- Regular saliva testing to be trialled in University and Southampton schools

Widespread testing for COVID-19 using a simple, home-based saliva test is to be trialled within educational settings in Southampton.

This is the second phase of a ground-breaking programme to evaluate large scale population testing, led by a partnership of the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS.

Earlier this year, the partnership trialled the testing method on large number of households in the city on a weekly basis. Nearly 10,000 people took part in this successful first phase which showed that an at-home saliva sampling kit can provide a reliable method for large-scale, regular testing and established systems to return results within 48 hours. It also provided further evidence for the accuracy of a rapid, lower cost ‘RT-LAMP’ laboratory test in detecting coronavirus.

The second phase will evaluate the application of the convenient, non-invasive saliva test in educational settings, involving staff and students at the University of Southampton and staff and pupils from four local schools  where this kind of testing offers the potential to avoid wholesale or long-term closures.

Saliva samples will be collected on a regular basis from participants and taken to the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Weybridge where they will be tested using Optigene's COVID-19 LAMP test. Results will be returned no more than 48 hours later.

Over 20,000 students, pupils and staff from University of Southampton and the four schools will be invited to participate in the programme.

“By providing such testing in schools we aim to give pupils, parents and staff confidence in the management of infection risk in schools.” Explained Keith Godfrey of the University of Southampton’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.

The details of those who test positive will be shared with the NHS Test and Trace programme so contact tracing can start immediately.

Through testing University of Southampton students, who will be arriving from across the UK and overseas, the partnership aims to keep the infection risk low in Southampton and give confidence to those students, staff and local communities.

Councillor Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council, said: “Regular testing is a vital tool to help us manage the risk of Covid-19 infection in our communities. Thanks to the thousands of Southampton residents who took part in the first phase of this trial, we now have a much greater understanding of the potential for this promising new saliva test. The second phase will help us to better understand how the test can be rolled out across different types of school and university settings as they reopen this Autumn. If we are successful, we hope to offer the testing programme to more settings in the near future.

Harry Kutty, Headteacher at Cantell Secondary School and Chair of the Aspire Community Trust who represents the four schools involved in this phase of the trial, commented: “We’re really excited to be part of this innovative trial. Getting schools open and running safely and smoothly is our number one priority and anything that could potentially help give parents, teachers and staff confidence and avoid wholesale closures has to be a good thing. Hopefully what we learn as early adopters can help to develop this programme to be available to more schools and other settings in future.”

Professor Godfrey added: “Those taking part will help pave the way for wider regular testing across educational, community and business settings here in Southampton and more widely. What we learn from the Southampton COVID-19 Testing Programme will inform national policy and coronavirus control measures elsewhere across the country.”

University students will be encouraged to take a test on their arrival in Southampton, then periodically during the autumn term alongside testing of some staff, prompted by text message.

Testing for the schools will be on a weekly basis involving four schools in the Aspire Community Trust (Mount Pleasant Junior, Maytree Infant, Swaythling Primary, and Cantell Secondary).




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