The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented societal challenges. The Irish university sector has maintained ‘business as usual’ to the greatest extent possible by a rapid transition to remote learning. Meanwhile, the sector galvanised into immediate action, contributing to the national emergency response in every way possible as the pandemic developed.
Our universities and their staff have and are making a hugely valuable contribution to the national efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are the key highlights of those efforts:
EXPERT ADVICE with STAFF AND STUDENTS ON THE FRONTLINE
Expert advice has been the hallmark of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Leading academics from across the university sector have been on hand to guide and support the response. Staff and students with clinical backgrounds and experience have responded to the HSE call and are working on the frontline.
The Irish Government is basing decisions on COVID-19 crisis management on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The NPHET oversees and provides guidance and support to the implementation of the strategy to contain COVID-19 and is supported by an Expert Advisory Group as well as sub-groups formed in response to the crisis.
- Dr Cillian de Gascun, Consultant Virologist & Laboratory Director, National Virus Reference Laboratory at UCD is a member of the NPHET and Chair of the Expert Advisory Group providing advice on COVID-19 to the HSE and NPHET.
- Martin Cormican, Professor of Bacteriology at NUI Galway, Consultant Microbiologist and member of NPHET’s Expert Advisory Group is the HSE National Clinical Lead for Infection Prevention and Control.
- The NPHET Epidemiology & Modelling Advisory Group monitors and models infection rates and other key statistics to determine the appropriate response for Ireland. Maynooth University President, Philip Nolan chairs this group, assisted by academics from across the higher education system and the public sector.
Being able to determine infections through diagnostic testing is the focal point of the national response to the pandemic. There is an urgent requirement to escalate testing, isolation and contact tracing, which will provide the “backbone” of the global response and the re-opening of economies.
To support this crucial endeavour, a HSE COVID19 Laboratory R&D Product Solutions Group has been formed. Under the guidance of the HSE, academic researchers from Ireland’s universities and higher education institutes, together with industry leaders and clinical experts, are developing solutions to enhance the testing process. This Group is looking at RNA extraction – a key step to releasing the viral particles so that they can be detected in samples and on antibody assays – tests which look at specific proteins produced by the body of an infected person. This Group reports to the HSE COVID19 Laboratory Capacity Taskforce and is chaired by Prof. William Gallagher, Director, UCD Conway Institute.
The Minister for Health has established a National Research Ethics Committee to review research ethics applications for COVID-19-related health research, where an expedited approach is essential for timely commencement of a public health research study. The Committee comprises 15 members, eight of whom are from Irish universities.
To advise the Expert Advisory Group on the best approach to the national research effort to combat Covid-19, a Research Sub-Group has been set up by Dr Cillian de Gascun. This is chaired by Cliona O’Farrelly, Chair of Comparative Immunology & Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin along with Trinity colleague Colm Bergin.
The CMO, Dr Tony Holohan, has convened a National Medical Leaders Forum that will be centred around information, planning and response to COVID-19 for senior leaders in the clinical community. Professor Mary Horgan, University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin’s Professor Orla Sheils have been asked to participate in this forum.
Professor Mac MacLachlan, Co-Director of the ALL Institute (Assisting Living and Learning) and Professor of Psychology and Social Inclusion at Maynooth University, has been seconded to a new role as Clinical Lead for Disability in the Irish Health Service (HSE). He is also a member of the Steering Committee for the Health Sector Psychosocial Plan in Response to Covid-19 and a related committee specially addressing online mental health supports for health and social care services staff and volunteers during Covid-19.
Many university academics have clinical backgrounds and experience which they are now directing towards combating the virus and supporting patients. University staff and students are actively supporting the national programme of assistance and support to combat COVID-19.
- All universities expedited the completion and assessment of final year medical exams to increase the number of qualified doctors available. Medical and nursing students are also on placements with the HSE.
- UCC College of Medicine & Health staff have gone on full-time secondment to the HSE Public Health Medicine Department. UCC School of Pharmacy PhD students have volunteered to Hospital and Community Pharmacies to aid in the provision of medicine. Staff in the UCC Clinical Research Facility are working on the Short Period Incidence Study of Severe Acute Respiratory Infection in COVID-19 patients.
- Claire O’Dowling, medical doctor in the UCC Tyndall BioPhotonics Group, now works at Cork University Hospital ICU.
- Trinity College has seconded clinical staff to teaching hospitals. Staff and students in the health sciences are working on the frontline as healthcare providers. Students from the School of Pharmacy have been helping to keep pharmacies open.
- NUI Galway students and staff with medical and laboratory backgrounds are volunteering with the HSE and testing patients for COVID-19 in Galway.
- UCD has provided volunteer scientific personnel to support the COVID-19 testing response across hospitals and in industry.
- Maynooth University’s Dr Andrew Hogan is assisting in a trial which is studying COVID-19 patients with Type II diabetes in St Vincent’s Hospital.
- UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School, School of Allied Health, Dept. of Nursing and Dept. of Psychology staff have returned to frontline work to support the HSE.
- DCU nursing staff are assisting the National Ambulance Service in home and nursing home testing.
COVID-19 TESTING & CONTACT TRACING
Highly skilled diagnostic laboratory staff from our universities have been readily mobilised to undertake laboratory processing of samples and to take swabs from patients at testing hubs and contact tracing centres have been set up and resourced on our campuses.
Diagnostic laboratory processing of samples requires skilled individuals who can be trained rapidly to operate in a clinical setting where precision and safety are paramount. Highly skilled individuals in each of our universities have been readily mobilised.
- In UCD, the NVRL has tested over 15,000 samples since the start of the pandemic and continues to be the primary national COVID-19 testing laboratory. UCD has also enabled research staff to co-opt to St Vincent’s Hospital Diagnostic Laboratory and those with molecular biology experience are providing support for COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Trinity College has provided research fellows to undertake diagnostic laboratory processing of samples. Staff from TCD’s School of Dentistry have been redeployed to work at testing hubs.
A significant impediment to processing samples was the scarcity of reagents needed to perform the diagnostic tests. Labs across higher education institutes rallied to produce lysis buffer, an essential solution required to extract viral particles to enable analysis.
- UCC’s School of Microbiology is working with the Academy of Clinical Science & Laboratory Medicine to develop alternative reagents to the commercial reagents used for COVID-19 testing. UCC staff liaised with international colleagues and rapidly sourced a validated open-source detection protocol for COVID-19 for the CUH Diagnostic Lab. Dr Martina Scallan and Dr John McSharry, supported by Dr John O’Callaghan, have developed an alternative lysis buffer for testing which has been validated in the CUH Diagnostic Lab.
- Other regents and buffers have been developed, produced and validated including DCU’s School of Biotechnology supporting Beaumont Hospital Lab by investigating the manufacture of reagents. Researchers at UCD have developed a recipe and standard operating procedure for the lysis buffer used in RNA extraction which has been shared across institutions nationally.
- UL’s Bernal Institute, Dept. of Chemical Sciences and Dept. of Biological Sciences scientists have prepared a validated lysis buffer for the HSE. The Bernal Institute is also providing technical expertise to University Hospital Limerick (UHL), while collaborating closely with HSE staff and colleagues in the Pharma sector on the testing reagents critical supply chain. Researchers are liaising with colleagues nationally to review alternative validated reagent preparation and use.
The benefit of a national diagnostic testing regime is optimised in conjunction with comprehensive contract tracing.
- UCD researchers, Dr Patrick Wall and Professor Mary Codd of the UCD School of Public Health set up Ireland’s first Contact Tracing Centre outside the HSE to provide test results, information and advice to people who have had COVID-19 tests and to gather information on close contacts for tracing purposes. A contact tracing centre of 72 phones lines and 200 operators is located in the UCD sciences building. Clinical and public health expertise is provided onsite by several doctors from the UCD staff with a HSE public health lead assigned as back up support to the centre.
- UCC’s Contact Tracing Clinicians are the first point of contact with an individual post-testing to inform them of their diagnosis. They conduct a detailed medical assessment, triaging or escalating as required to a Public Health Specialist/Consultant and identifying key groups such as health care professionals. Once completed, they route to the call centre for contact tracing of a positive result, which is manned by 50 UCC staff.
- DCU is also operating a contact tracing centre with 50 phone lines and 100 staff.
- Trinity College has similar centres at D’Olier House and in the TCD Business School.
- A 40-seat contact tracing centre is also located at NUI Galway.
- University of Limerick in partnership with the HSE and Revenue, has set up the UL Virtual Hub with over 50 senior health sciences students trained to engage in contact tracing. They are averaging around 100 calls a day.
COVID-19 RESEARCH & INNOVATION
University research is being deployed to help tackle the pandemic, leveraging expertise from across our institutions.
University research is being carried out across a broad range of areas and is informing our understanding of, and response to, the pandemic. While the fundamental challenge is a health-related emergency, this pandemic will have significant implications for society, the economy and future policy.
- The Trinity College COVID-19 Immunology Project is a research programme led by the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute in collaboration with Trinity Translational Medicine Institute and the Clinical Research Facility at St. James’s Hospital. It involves infectious disease consultants, immunologists, respiratory disease physicians and IC specialists working with patients and is led by Kingston Mills and Prof. Aideen Long. The Project will develop new antibody tests, scale up antibody testing, investigate immune response in patients and design new drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.
- Dr Conor McGinn of Akara Robotics, a spin-out of Trinity’s Robotics & Innovation Lab has developed Violet, the germ-killing ultra violet light robot which is clinically proven to kill viruses and bacteria. The HSE has fast-tracked its development. Violet will reduce dependency on the use of chemical-based solutions, which require hospital rooms to be vacated for several hours during sterilisation.
- NUI Galway start up Aquila Bioscience has developed a chemical-free wipe that effectively removes bacteria, viruses, fungi and biological toxins from surfaces. The wipes not only remove pathogens from surfaces but also ‘trap’ them within the material so prevent them spreading. The solution is non-toxic so can be used on human skin, mucosal surfaces and wounds. The project is led by Lokesh Joshi.
- UCD’s Walter Cullen is mapping the pandemic by cluster and county, while UCD computer scientists are developing new ways of facilitating contact tracing. Prof. Fionnuala McAuliffe from UCD and the National Maternity Hospital is undertaking a clinical trial with pregnant women who have contracted COVID-19. Prof. Mark Coyne is involved in a convalescent serum study with clinical trials involving the use of anti-SARS-CoV-2 serum.
- MU and TCD academics Dr Philip Hyland and Dr Frédérique Vallières are collaborating on a multi-wave Covid-19 Psychological Survey on vaccine hesitancy and the mental health effects of quarantine and physical distancing measures.
- Maynooth University’s Joanna Mc Hugh Power, Rebecca Maguire and Sean Commins are conducting a study on loneliness and social isolation during social distancing.
- The NUI Galway Inspire Initiative has a number of collaborative projects spanning the journey of the virus from transmission to critical care and recovery. NUI Galway, NCAD, UHG, multinational MedTech Companies and Start-Ups have rapidly developed, verified and are now implementing solutions that will support health care workers response to COVID-19.
- UCC’s Alan Morrison is modifying the design of intelligent lighting incorporating UV-LEDs to develop a contactless sterilisation mechanism that can be used for sanitisation in clinical settings.
- UCC’s Prof. Cora O’Neill has retargeted research into brain degenerative disease of the aging to COVID-19 due to its predominant impact on the elderly health and people living with dementia.
- The COVID-19 Remote Early Warning System (CREW) is a quarantine management platform that will allow the remote identification of healthcare staff who may be developing a temperature symptomatic of COVID-19 and who therefore should not present to work. Developed in partnership between UCC’s College of Medicine and Health and Cork-based software consultancy 8West – with the help of the UCC Assert Centre and Tyndall National Institute CREW combines existing technologies in an innovative way to allow remote continuous monitoring of healthcare workers to ensure early and reliable detection of a temperature.
- Research staff in UCC’s School of Microbiology have developed rapid-response research projects aimed at detecting, diagnosing or mitigating COVID-19 infections using a range of microbiological, virological, immunological and computational approaches.
- Staff at the HRB Clinical Research Facility and the Tyndall National Institute at UCC are collaborating with industry to test and perfect an Ultra-Fast Single Patient COVID-19 Health Screening Tool.
- UL researchers are working with HSE on digitising their ward maps for use in a hospital acquired infection app adapted for COVID-19 crisis.
- DCU School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr Caitríona Dowd has re-directed a research network on humanitarian resilience in South Sudan to build in a specific pillar on COVID-19 response with partners in South Sudan and the wider region.
- Dr Patrick Cadwell in the DCU School of Applied Language & Intercultural Studies is researching sign language interpreting in the COVID-19 Crisis in Ireland and the UK.
- DCU’s Dr Louise Hopper is carrying out a study to capture the impact of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. The study aims to identify useful coping skills and habits for managing wellbeing as well as potential predictors for problematic mental health during a pandemic.
- Mary Rogan, at Trinity College, is conducting a research project called Prisons: the rule of law; accountability and rights. Prisons are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease. Many prisoners have underlying health conditions, some are in older age groups, and there are pregnant women in prisons across the world.
- Chris Brunsdon from Maynooth University’s National Centre for Geocomputation is a member of the Public Health Emergency Team modelling subgroup. The Centre is working on monitoring of social distancing in public spaces.
- Maynooth University Department of Education partnered with the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and other education representative bodies in a study of over 2,800 primary school leaders to assess their response to the closure of primary schools due to COVID-19.
- Corona Citizens’ Science Project led by Dr Akke Vellinga of NUI Galway and Professor Anthony Staines of Dublin City University. The project is a national anonymous online survey with the aim of getting an insight into how the Corona pandemic and the corresponding restrictive measures are impacting on people’s activities, work, school and childcare. It hopes to identify barriers people are encountering, how people are coping with the lockdown, how they are dealing with childcare issues etc.
- Evidence Synthesis Ireland, Cochrane Ireland and the HRB Trials Methodology Research Network (based in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in NUI Galway) have refocused their collective resources on prioritised COVID-19 activities to support healthcare policy and practice decision making in Ireland and beyond. The group, called the Emergency Evidence Response Service, is working in collaboration with the NUI Galway Library and colleagues throughout the University and broader research community, and are working quickly and flexibly on prioritised questions from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Cochrane, Campbell UK & Ireland, governments, EPPI-Centre (London), the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine (CEBM, Oxford) and others.
- ICHEC, the Irish Centre for High-Performance Computing is expediting access for all scientific and academic research relating to COVID-19 on the National High-Performance Computer (HPC), “Kay”. Researchers with approved projects can access fast-track access to HPC. ICHEC is a member the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) which is providing huge computational power – 195 000 000 core hours – to the first ten projects awarded under the Fast Track Call for Proposals to support the mitigation of the impact of the pandemic. High-Performance Computing offers researchers the ability to test models at speeds traditional computing methods are incapable of. ICHEC is ensuring all Covid-19 related research is prioritised on Kay. This includes fast-track access, prioritised compute jobs and code optimisation support on one of the most powerful computers in Ireland.
Approximately 15% of individuals with COVID-19 develop moderate to severe disease and require hospitalisation and oxygen support, with a further 5% requiring admission to an Intensive Care Unit and supportive therapies including intubation and ventilation. Researchers and academics are aiding our national response and exploring new approaches.
- The Inspire Initiative, led by Professors John Laffey and Martin O’Halloran, is an industry-academic partnership based at NUI Galway, designed to deliver fast-to-clinic medical devices. The team is addressing topics ranging from infection control to improving oxygen delivery to critically ill patients.
- The Galway VentShare is a rapid response team, including NUI Galway expertise, investigating a safer way to ventilate multiple patients from a single ventilator. After intensive design and testing, they have developed a ventilator system which can provide independent tidal volume titration to two patients at the same time. A second project seeks to reduce the infection risk associated with high-flow oxygen delivery. If successful, this will reduce dependency on ventilators, enabling more patients to receive life-saving oxygen therapy.
- In collaboration with the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists and the Lecturers in Respiratory Physiotherapy from other Universities, UCC’s Dr Joseph McVeigh is advising and upskilling physiotherapists who are returning to work or being redeployed.
This is a snapshot of research activity in our universities that has taken place since COVID-19 emerged. Many university researchers and academic staff are responding to calls from national funders (IRC, HRB, SFI, EI, etc) and international research funders including the European Commission.
In addition to our universities leveraging multidisciplinary research and innovation expertise from across our academic institutions research leaders are also key players in large international research collaborations working directly or indirectly on Covid-19.
- Pat Dolan in NUI Galway’s Institute for Lifecourse and Society and UNESCO Chair for Youth Civic Engagement is co-leading an International Global Youth Response to COVID-19 on how empathy, kindness and compassion are key to limiting suffering, protecting the vulnerable and quickly recovering in the aftermath of the crisis.
- UCC’s Gerry Killeen, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, collaborates with active players in the global COVID modelling effort and is qualified to critically evaluate any models and predictions.
- UCC’s Dr Zubair Kabir, School of Public Health, is a collaborator on the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study with the Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) in the University of Washington, Seattle. Dr Kabir also contributed to the IHME Covid-19 forecasting modelling study for Irish data just published on 7th April.
- Alistair Nichol, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at UCD and St Vincent’s University Hospital, is leading the REMAP CAP clinical trial. The trial tests interventions for COVID-19 in critically ill patients, captures the outcomes and analyses data across an international network in a global effort to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in intensive care settings. Rapid data sharing with others working in the area is underway and will inform decision making.
- UCD’s Profs Cormac McCarthy and Paddy Mallon are joining the WHO International Trial Solidarity, which looks at the use of remdisivir, chloroquine, hydroxyvhloroquine, lopinavir / ritonavir and b interferon to treat COVID-19.
- DCU’s Edoardo Celeste is carrying out research on privacy and State measures to address Covid-19 in the context of the Digital Constitutionalism international research network. Roisin Lyons, DCU Business School is one of the cofounders of OSVX which is a platform for open-source innovation designs for the COVID-19 crisis.
- Led by Molly Byrne, researchers in the NUI Galway Health Behaviour Change Research Group at the School of Psychology are collaborating with over 100 behavioural scientists from more than 20 countries around the world on an international study evaluating awareness and responses to the pandemic.
In addition to providing expertise to the national groups listed previously which informs national decisions, there are many other examples of university academics and researchers as policy advocates.
- Maynooth University’s Prof. Paul Moynagh, is advising national policy on testing strategy.
- Trinity College researchers in the School of Nursing & Midwifery led by Joan Lalor have developed a protocol for maternity care during the COVID-19 crisis that is openly available to healthcare providers around the world.
- Trinity College Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability has created a range of resources related to COVID-19 for people with an intellectual disability.
- UCC’s Ursula Kilkelly, School of Law, together with Prof Laura Lundy QUB are developing research to explore children’s rights and COVID-19 in a policy context.
- UCD’s Prof. Rachel Crowley is developing an ethical decision-making framework to guide pandemic decision making.
- Aidan Regan of UCD led the submission of an open letter, backed by over 400 academics, calling for the European Council of Ministers to raise finance for the eurozone through a eurobond.
- DCU’s Dr Patrick Cadwell advised officers in the Wuhan Ministry for Foreigners on the provision of translated content on Covid-19 for foreign nationals in China.
SPECIALIST EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING
Our universities have supplied specialist equipment and other devices required for diagnostic testing and otherwise. They have also provided specialist training.
The critical need for PPE emerged at pace and a global shortage ensued. Irish universities gathered all supplies available and provided these to the HSE and its frontline workers.
- Derek O’Keeffe from NUI Galway and Dr Kevin Johnson from UL created a new website www.covidmedsupply.org which connects HEI and industry PPE stock to hospitals worldwide.
- DCU has delivered PPE and 3D printers to local hospitals. Maynooth University has provided PPE to Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) and Naas hospital. Trinity College has provided PPE to St James Hospital and TUH.
- UCC School of Pharmacy has donated all available PPE to Cork University Hospital (CUH). The School of Pharmacy has also instigated production of hand sanitiser. It is envisaged that this will be particularly valuable when the University enters a ramp up phase after the current regime of restriction. UCC’s Biological Services Unit has donated all available PPE to the Red Cross.
- UCD has donated over 55,000 pairs of nitrile gloves to the Mater Hospital, and UCD College and Institute stores have been facilitating requests by the HSE and clinical colleagues to secure additional equipment and consumables to support the wider COVID-19 testing response.
- All UL departments, schools and labs have donated PPE to HSE, Gardaí and frontline staff.
- DCU staff have produced 50 litres of hand sanitiser for use in the contact tracing centre and local hospice. Trinity College Dublin staff produced 100 litres of hand sanitiser and provided it to St James Hospital.
To carry out diagnostic testing, it is essential to have the right equipment that is specifically matched with the commercially manufactured test kits.
- DCU has loaned 2 PCR instruments to NVRL/Enfer. Trinity College has made available Q-PCR Instruments for testing.
- The UCC School for Microbiology has made available to the CUH diagnostic lab 2 Roche Light Cycler instruments which are the main platform for COVID-19 testing. APC Microbiome, based in UCC has also provided a biosafety cabinet to a new testing facility established in Bandon and has supplied ventilators, infusion pumps, syringe drivers and IV training arms to the HSE.
- Maynooth University’s Sean Doyle is involved in the supply of PCR testing equipment to National Virus Testing laboratory.
University representatives have offered support in the form of specific COVID-19 training to testers, contact tracing volunteers and call centre staff. Other support services include the development of protocols to communicate with patients in isolation and ICU.
- UL’s Dr Ann Ledwith has been training the HSE Management Team with specific focus on COVID-19.
- DCU nursing staff are involved in Train the Trainers for Covid-19 testers.
- Trinity College staff are providing training to contact tracing centre clinical staff volunteers. UCC’s School of Public Health is training all contact tracing volunteers in its centre. UCD is providing public health academics to train staff for the HSE call centre.
- UL’s Dr Guang Ren has provided the HSE with a COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment handbook that was devised by The First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine.
- UL’s Ita Richardson collaborated with the HSE in the development of a protocol for communications for patients in isolation and ICU in UHL. This will be used by the Patient Advisory and Liaison Support within ULH.
- UL’s Michelle O’Donoghue and the Autism@UL Special Interest Group are compiling advice on supporting wellness in autistic adults and parents of children with autism for the HSE.
- UCC and UCD have also together founded a National Foundation module in Critical Care Nursing – an online accelerated programme aimed at increasing the number of nurses available to provide critical care.
- UCC’s Dr Menon Margassery has been educating Indian students about COVID-19, including mental health counselling, guidance on various govt legislations.
- NUI Galway’s Martin Cormican has, through the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, produced a series of COVID-19 video resources for clinical and non-clinical staff.
- As well as www.covidmedsupply.org, Prof. Derek O’Keeffe from NUI Galway with Dr Kevin Johnson from UL have created a second website to track the symptoms of the virus. www.MyCovidSymptoms.ie is a research application tool to quickly and easily track the spread of COVID-19 by gathering anonymous symptom data. It will result in more accurate estimations of the prevalence of COVID-19 infections will be provided to the Irish health authorities to assist with planning.
- Fight Together Platform is a joint initiative by the Dept. of Health and the HSE to create a collective action platform to protect each other, loved ones and Ireland from spread of COVID-19. The platform consists of a citizen facing component, a smart phone app available via Apple App Store, Google Play Store to track history of people’s location and personal contacts in the context of social distancing and a Taskforce facing health intelligence platform to assist the Taskforce in understanding the spread, accelerate contact tracing, enable pre-emptive actions to slow or stop the rate of COVID-19 infection. The UCC Tyndall team have reviewed the technical aspects of the proposed Bluetooth proximity monitoring platform and other alternatives and provided detailed feedback on draft documents.
- The HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, Evidence Synthesis Ireland and Cochrane Ireland based in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in NUI Galway are helping the public quickly and easily check the reliability of health claims being circulated by social media. The new website, iHealthFacts.ie, is funded by the Health Research Board in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also brought with it an infodemic of misinformation and disinformation. Members of the public can submit any health claims they are curious about to the iHealthFacts.ie website. A team of researchers in NUI Galway have established a process for assessing prioritised health claims by searching for evidence to support or refute the claim. The prepared responses are also reviewed by a team of Evidence Advisors from NUI Galway, UCD, TCD, UL, UCC and RCSI and by a panel of Public and Patient Advisors (PPI Ignite @ NUI Galway).
FACILITIES AND FIELD HOSPITAL SPACES
Our seven universities have made a range of facilities available to the HSE, the Gardai and to other government agencies.
Our seven universities have made a range of facilities available including accommodation, space for potential field hospitals, and for office and medical work.
- Over 5,000 bed spaces in on-campus student accommodation for HSE staff.
- Accommodation has also been kept open in many universities for students, including international students who are unable to go home and students in direct provision.
- UCC has accommodated the temporary transfer of cancer treatment services from Cork Hospitals. CUH and Mercy University Hospital have moved their Oncology outpatient facilities to the Brookfield Health Sciences complex.
- The UCC INFANT space in the Paediatrics unit of CUH is now the new location for Clinical Neurophysiology. The Outpatients/Warfarin clinics from CUH have relocated to Cork University Dental School.
- Maynooth University has partnered with Ireland’s Call, which was started by Irish businessman and MU alumnus Neil Sands. 20 rooms at MU’s campus will become available free of charge to returning health workers and frontline health care workers who need isolation away from their own home during the pandemic. MU Buildings and audio-visual equipment have been made available to Gardaí.
- At DCU the main gym hall on Glasnevin campus and 2 sports halls on St Pat’s campus are available to the HSE as potential field hospitals. Similar provisions have been made at UCC and at UL. DCU also has a 5 Bay Clinical Hub on Glasnevin Campus.
- Trinity College classrooms at Trinity Centre have been provided to St. James’ Hospital for staff training use. It has also provided the Institute of Population Health at Tallaght University Hospital for clinical activity.
- NUI Galway has provided Medical Academy facilities in Letterkenny, Castlebar, Ballinasloe and Sligo to the HSE. The university has also enabled its Clinical Science Building in University Hospital Galway to be used by the HSE for training purposes. On campus a 150-bed step down facility is available in Aras na Mac Leinn, O’Donoghue Centre.
SUPPORT TO STUDENTS
All seven universities are endeavouring to look after the health, wellbeing and academic progress of all current students.
Student health services and counselling services continue to operate on a full-time basis, via video and phone consultations and additional resources have been put in place to support students through this stressful time.
In each university accommodation has remained open for international and national students who are unable to get home.
A number of universities are offering on-campus accommodation to students who have lost their private rental and to medical and nursing students working on the frontline who have been unable to remain in their private rental accommodation.
All learning and teaching for the seven universities has gone online delivered through each university’s Virtual Learning Environment and students are currently completing their academic year as planned, with alternative plans now in place for exams.
In putting in place these revised assessment procedures, universities are applying a number of key principles and approaches including:
- Ensuring that students suffer no academic disadvantage, with all universities introducing flexible arrangements in these exceptional circumstances in relation to exam formats, marking and re-sits if required.
- A recognition that some students may have technical issues with poor connectivity, exam formats and timing adjusted appropriately by the flexible arrangements in place in each university.
- Supports and arrangements for students with recognised disabilities. The university disability services are working with both academics and students to ensure these are in place.
The seven universities are working with the CAO and other stakeholders in Ireland and overseas to ensure that new university students can begin their studies as soon as possible in the 2020-21 academic year. For example, for Irish undergraduate students, planning centres around the publication of the 2020 Leaving Certificate results based on calculated grades. For each of the seven universities, planning for the 2020-21 academic year will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice.
- DCU is offering teachers and lecturers a free online course to help them make the most of technology to continue teaching their own students through the Covid-19 school and college shutdown. The course is open to teachers, lecturers and trainers around the world and over 3,000 educators from more than 125 countries have signed up.
- UL’s Conor Ryan is collaborating with Scoilnet to develop and roll out an online platform for support of teachers and schools, which will provide an interactive tool for Leaving Cert students.
- Academics from UCC and UCD are working with RTE to provide educational programming for primary school children through its daily Home School Hub broadcasts.
- Maynooth University is working with Midlands Science on youth science programme broadcast via social media channels.
VOLUNTEERING, FUNDRAISING AND ASSISTING COMMUNITIES
In all seven universities, staff and students are volunteering to support a range of groups including frontline health staff, parents, older people, isolated rural communities, unemployed people, disadvantaged groups, SME’s, social enterprises and community and voluntary organisations etc.
Students are being encouraged to seek volunteering opportunities through the portal www.studentvolunteer.ie. For example:
- ‘UCC Responds‘ is an initiative to encourage staff and student community support initiatives and present them coherently to the public.
- Medical students at UCD have set up the COVID-19 Medicine Deliveries Group, which delivers medicines to vulnerable people who are self-isolating. Over 800 students have volunteered and the group has linked with 355 pharmacies across the country.
- TCD’s Research Motor Neurone group led by Prof. Orla Hardiman has innovated its services in collaboration with IMNDA to ensure people with MND receive 24/7 cover and home visits.
- UL medical student, Cathal Freeman, has raised €54,000 for frontline healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 by completing a marathon-length run around a circuit close to his home on UL campus (while soloing a sliotar throughout.)
- Tech2Students is part of an innovative collaboration between Trinity Access and Camara Education Ireland, supported by ESB. The initiative is to gather donations of disused laptops for redistribution to vulnerable secondary school students who need them.
- Eileen Culloty from the DCU School of Communication is working with Age Action to create resources for older people around COVID-19 disinformation and scams.
- Academics from DCU’s School of Health and Human Performance and the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics have teamed up for a four-part series of Facebook live events providing practical advice on how adults and children can stay active at home.
INFORMED COMMUNICATION TO THE PUBLIC
In these uncertain times, the views of experts provide clarity and reassurance. They stimulate debate, challenge perceptions and most importantly they provide knowledge and explanations as people seek to understand their new normal. Many of our staff have become well-known names through regular appearances on radio and television stations.
Academic researchers from across the higher education sector in Ireland offer daily contributions on the virus and actions that will lead to its suppression. They also provide practical advice for those struggling to cope with social distancing and isolation, as well as commentary on the impact on the economy, society and the environment.
- John Concannon, NUI Galway Vice President for Development, has been tasked with coordinating the national public communications campaign on the coronavirus outbreak.
- Maynooth University’s Prof, Paul Moynagh has discussed testing strategy on RTE Morning Ireland and many other media outlets.
- Dr Akke Velinga of NUI Galway participated in an RTE ‘Explained by Prime Time’ piece seeking to break down knowledge about the nightly confirmed positive number.
- Trinity College’s Kingston Mills has appeared on national radio and television broadcasts as an expert commentator including Prime Time and Morning Ireland.
Prof. Luke O’Neill has provided expert commentary on Prime Time, Newstalk, Sky News and contributed to print media. Dr Kim Roberts has appeared on Prime Time and in print media to explain social distancing and to discuss how viruses are transmitted.
- Trinity College’s Catherine Comiskey from the School of Nursing & Midwifery has appeared on broadcast media to give expert commentary on the crisis from a health sector perspective.
- UCC’s Gerry Killeen published an article in the Irish Examiner entitled “Slowing the growth of the COVID-19 epidemic is simply not enough”. He has also adapted a scientific paper into a series of articles entitled “COVID-19: A reality check on the numbers”.
- UCC’s Dr Frances Shiely and Dr Darren Dahly are Evidence Advisors on iHealthFacts.ie. Dr Dahly has organised a group of clinical trial statisticians to evaluate COVID-19 related clinical trials. One of their 4 expert reviews has been downloaded over 24,000 times.
- UCD’s Liam Delaney, has contributed expertise around behavioural economics to the Irish Times, looking at the concept of behavioural fatigue. He is also working with the HSE to better understand how to help incentivise key behaviours in response to the pandemic.
- UCD’s Paddy Mallon, Professor of Microbial Diseases in the School of Medicine and a Consultant in Infectious Diseases in St Vincent’s University Hospital, has contributed to podcasts, radio interviews and television interviews in recent weeks.
- UCD’s Patrick Wall was on The Tonight Show on Virgin Media One to explain how UCD set up the first operational satellite contract tracing centre for the HSE. UCD’s Dr Virginie Gautier explained the science behind social distancing on RTÉ Prime Time.
- Prof Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems at DCU, is a regular contributor on print and broadcast on the topic of public health, policy and the Corona Citizens’ Science Project.
- Edgar Morgenroth from DCU Business School has contributed to the Irish Times on the economic impacts of the Coronavirus
- Professor Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the DCU Institute of Education, has been commenting on schools undertaking ‘largest educational experiment in human history’ Read here.
- UL’s Liam Glynn and GP, Dr Mike O’Callaghan are providing daily updates on the national COVID-19 crisis using reliable, validated information on Twitter, #COVIDWATCH, endorsed as an ICGP/UL collaboration. Prof. Glynn has also provided expert opinion on RTE and in national newspapers.
- DCU’s Eoin O’Malley has provided commentary on political leadership in context of COVID-19, Eileen Culloty on COVID-19 conspiracy theories and counteracting disinformation.
- Prof Turlough Downes, DCU School of Mathematical Sciences, appeared on RTE’s Prime Time regarding the use of mathematical skills to model the trends and numbers from the virus. Read his contribution on the topic in the Irish Times here.
- Dr Jane Suiter, Director of FuJo and Assoc Prof at the DCU School of Communications, contributed extensively to broadcast radio on the issues of fake news and misinformation circulating regarding the coronavirus – click here to hear a sample.
- Prof. Gary Murphy, DCU School of Law & Government, was speaking on RTÉ Radio One on the issue of government formation talks during the Coronavirus. Click here to hear more.
- DCU Professor Emeritus Tony Foley wrote a piece for The Irish Examiner on the slow economic recovery in the wake of the Coronavirus restrictions