About six weeks ago I received a phone call from local councillor, Laurence Fallon. Medical group ROQU were carrying out a pilot scheme for rapid Covid testing in Lecarrow for four weeks and he wanted to know if our household wanted to take part.
According to Cllr. Fallon, ROQU, led by CEO Robert Quirke, had developed a smartphone app which works alongside Covid-antigen testing machines and provides results in less than twenty minutes.
On the following Saturday morning, we reported to St. John’s Church car park, which had been transformed into a tented test centre. Cllr. Fallon and other local volunteers were acting as stewards while staff from the ROQU Group carried out registration and testing.
There was some apprehension as we waited in the queue of cars that first Saturday morning. There was talk of nasal swabs and the anxious wait for test results.
When it was our turn we pulled up to the line and were greeted by a friendly woman with a clipboard. We went through the registration process and were asked to wait for the testers.
Moments later a woman in full PPE gear appeared from the testing tent brandishing a swab. She politely asked me to blow my nose.
“Sorry, I know this is uncomfortable but it will be over in just a few seconds,” she assured us.
A sample was then taken using a shallow nasal swab, which isn’t as intrusive as the PCR test used to detect Covid-19. The whole procedure took less than ten seconds and my eyes didn’t water once. I swear.
“You’re all done,” the PPE lady said. There were no further tests required so away we went.
We were halfway to Roscommon town when I received a phone call from an unknown number.
“Hi Dan, your test was negative. You’ll be sent a link for the Health Passport app by email. Once you download the app you will see that your status is ‘low risk’. Have a good weekend!”
And that’s how the script played out on each of the following three Saturday mornings.
The weekly testing provided participants in Lecarrow with some much-needed peace of mind. Like everywhere else, there had been anxiety around Covid-19 in the area, particularly as cases continued to rise in October.
Arriving at St. John’s Church each week, you couldn’t help but feel that you were taking back some measure of control.
This is something the local parish priest, Fr. Ray Milton, who also took part in the pilot scheme, touched on earlier this week.
“The testing was not very invasive. The rapid test result was fantastic, and having the results received within the Health Passport app was very reassuring. The testing had a good effect on people as it addressed their fears and anxieties about the test itself but more importantly, Covid-19 was not detected and there was no long delay between getting tested and getting the result.
“It provided a safe environment for us and those that tested positive took the necessary steps, following all HSE guidelines. The trial has given a great degree of confidence back to people and the feedback has been wonderful,” he said.
In total, over 1,000 rapid tests were carried out on 150 participants during the trial, which was part of the Health Passport Ireland pilot programme.
There were seven positive cases over the six weeks, including one couple who had just left St. John’s and were on their way to a supermarket when they were alerted of their positive results. The phone call from an on-site doctor allowed them to head for home and begin self-isolation immediately.
Robert Quirke, CEO of ROQU Group, said the pilot scheme in Lecarrow shows that testing can be done on a larger scale.
“By working with the Lecarrow community, we have been able to stress test how the screening system works in the real world and it has been very reassuring for the local families,” he said.
While a report published in August by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) put the accuracy of nasopharyngeal swabs at anything from 76% to 100%, Mr. Quirke said machines used in rapid antigen testing were shown to have 96.7% accuracy in clinical tests in the United States.
“It has shown that by combining rapid testing with technology, the Health Passport system is an efficient screening solution. The system has already detected many positive cases amongst asymptomatic people, not only in the village of Lecarrow but also with the rest of our trial partners who we are screening on a weekly basis,” he said.
The ROQU Group is now hopeful that the pilot scheme can lead to rapid testing being made available to the general public and that in the absence of a vaccine, this level of screening would lead to fewer lockdowns and allow travel and sporting events to take place.
“Having a positive case identified has meant that people can isolate and seek medical help at an early stage and prevent transmission. With the Lecarrow trial, the residents were protected, making it a safer place to live and it reduced any potential strain on the public health system,” Mr. Quirke concluded.