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New pilot: home testing for Covid-free education bubbles in ’s-Hertogenbosch and Breda

HAS University of Applied Sciences, together with Avans University of Applied Sciences, Koning Willem I College in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Amphia Hospital in Breda and the Microvida laboratory, is launching a pilot to investigate whether home Covid testing (using antigen rapid tests) could be used on a large scale to create Covid-free bubbles for students and lecturers. The aim of the pilot is to provide safer and more frequent face-to-face education.

“We want to offer our students and staff a wider perspective, without increasing the risk of people becoming infected and spreading the virus”, say Dominique Majoor (KWIC), Liz Chermin (HAS) and Jacomine Ravensbergen (Avans).

Covid-free bubbles for practical education

The researchers are aiming to find a quick and easy phased solution to create small Covid-free bubbles for a few thousand students. The size of these bubbles depends in part on the total number of students at each of the educational institutions. At the start of the pilot, the focus will mainly be on the face-to-face practical education that is already taking place. The nature of this education sometimes makes it difficult to maintain social distancing.

The pilot will investigate whether home testing with online support can be used to provide safe on-site education to groups of students. Testing at the institutions would present significant challenges in terms of safety, hygiene and logistical feasibility due to the large number of travel movements, the social distancing rules and the 15-minute turnaround time per person for each test.

On-site education and social contact

In a recent study at the XL test site in Tilburg, an antigen rapid test was validated for home use. Although the results have not yet been published, the research presents a clear path towards further exploring home testing to make on-site education possible again. “Many young people crave face-to-face education and social contact with their fellow students”, says Avans Vice-Chair Jacomine Ravensbergen. “I hope this pilot will help make that possible.”

The study will also look at how timetables should be adjusted to facilitate the bubbles, whether the solution is feasible under the current legislation and whether there is sufficient take-up of home testing among students and lecturers, all of whom will be participating on a voluntary basis.

Government gives the green light

The Dutch government recently invited educational institutions to submit plans for a return to on-site education, and encouraged collaborations. Avans submitted the home-testing pilot on behalf of its partners, and this week the project was given the green light by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

After receiving the go-ahead, the partners immediately began gearing up their organisations for the pilot. Soon the first students and lecturers will be invited to take part in the first phase of the study, and more details about the pilot are expected to become available shortly.