Mass on-campus Covid-19 testing is underway this week at the University of Limerick after an outbreak of the virus among the student population. 

Dr Ronan Ryder, Director of the Student Health Centre at UL reported that 50 patients were referred for testing on Monday, compared to fewer than 5 patients two weeks prior. 

Due to the scale of the outbreak and the threat it poses to the greater community, the UL mass testing scheme is free of charge and symptoms do not need to be present to be tested. 

The outbreak is the result of increased social mixing coupled with the increased risk factors that are unique to students. Students live in large, crowded households, travel to and from family homes, and may hold a part-time job, creating many opportunities for the virus to spread. 

There is evidence of multiple household clusters of the virus arising from continued social mixing. Small and large social gatherings, typically a daily occurrence for university students, are being discovered as the primary driver of the outbreaks as contact tracers follow up on cases. Due to the nature of the UK variant and the fact that many young people will not present symptoms, these gatherings are high-risk environments. 

University of Limerick President, Kerstin Mey, released a series of statements on Twitter earlier today directed at the student body, Mey explained that “In light of increasing concerns about student gatherings in the private housing estates near UL and given the rising number of off-campus cases UL is now funding high visibility Garda policing to be carried out every evening.” To the students who are continuing to gather, she wrote, “you are endangering yourselves, your friends, your families, your community, and your university.”

The social mixing and rise in cases are part of a larger trend of widening ‘social bubbles’ as the country enters its third consecutive month of Level 5 restrictions.  

UCD students who think they may have Covid-19 can receive a referral for a test by reaching out to the UCD Student Health Service. 

Sarah Eiland – Reporter