Here’s how Bristol Uni’s free Covid testing works
All students get two free tests
All students are being offered two free Covid tests before they travel home for Christmas, with testing taking place in the student travel window of the 3rd to the 9th of December.
Over 4,900 appointments have been booked since the booking system opened on Wednesday, and there is capacity to offer between 17 and 20 thousand tests overall. Tests can be taken either at Wills Hall or at the SU. Over 900 third and fourth year medical students signed up to assist with the testing, although not all are needed.
The Bristol Tab was given a tour of the Stoke Bishop testing centre by Paul Smith, Head of Estates, and Professor Caroline Relton, Professor of Epidemiology, to explain how they will test every single student currently in Bristol TWICE in the space of a week.
The tests take 20 minutes, and you get results in 2 hours
All students are entitled to two tests each, which should be taken around 3 days apart. Testing is taking place both in the Wills Hall Conference Centre and in the Anson Rooms in Bristol SU, with capacity for around 2000 tests per day between the two sites.
When you enter the test centre, you’ll use a QR code to register your test and will head to a booth to swab your throat and nose (yes, this test also requires a throat and nose swab).
There are multiple individual booths with mirrors to self-administer the test. The university has actually borrowed voting booths from Bristol City Council, saying they work extremely well. The test takes about five minutes to do, and after that the specimen is tested right there on site, and you will get results by text within two hours.
The government has provided Lateral Flow Tests for use, which have a “lower sensitivity” than the PCR tests in use across the country. Professor Relton said: “If you had 100 cases that you were testing [out of] 5000 individuals, and you knew that 100 of them are positive, the PCR test would pick up about 99 of those cases, the lateral flow test would likely pick up about 75.”
Relton emphasised the need to take two tests, and to follow the guidance around social distancing and mask wearing so that you don’t pick up the infection after being tested.
Relton added: “What the lateral flow test doesn’t do is give you a cast iron guarantee that you don’t carry an infection. So it can give you some level of reassurance, reassurance that you’re low risk. So the day you take the test, it tells you that if you’re negative, that you’re highly unlikely to have an infection, if you then go out and socialise and mix then that that reassurance then sort of evaporates.
“So it’s really important for students to combine this testing provision with all the measures that have been recommended along the way. Social distancing, and mask wearing.”
Testing will stop completely on the 9th of December
The university only has a license to offer these tests between the 3rd and the 9th of December, meaning that students leaving after the 9th will be unable to get tested just before they go home.
We asked whether students who still had on-campus teaching after the 9th would be able to get tested (medical and veterinary students), which they couldn’t answer. They said that they want to provide that testing, but it was up to the government.
However, they did say that these testing sites had been set up to be used over the long term, not just this once, raising hopes that the university could run mass testing when students return in January.
Professor Relton added: “The tests are obviously provided by the government department health and social care, they’re not available to be purchased by the university. So we’re really awaiting instruction in terms of whether we could offer that to students, it would seem as that very sensible thing to do.”
Testing is not mandatory, but is highly encouraged
Despite the lower levels of accuracy of Lateral Flow Tests, the university is strongly encouraging all students to take advantage of the free testing before going home to family members. The Wills Hall centre is open from 8am-10pm, and the Anson Rooms from 10am-6pm.
Despite the lower levels of accuracy with these tests, students are encouraged to “take advantage of the opportunity”, as there is no other way to get tested before going home if you do not have symptoms.
Tests can be booked on the uni website at this link, and you should book two appointments at least two days apart.
These tests cannot guarantee that you are not carrying Covid-19, but coupled with the following guidance around social distancing and mask wearing, they can provide a good level of reassurance before seeing family members at Christmas.