The COVID-19 outbreaks in US colleges since they reopened in recent days are a “warning sign” for Ireland, according to Professor Luke O’Neill.
More than 26,000 coronavirus cases have been detected at more than 1,500 US colleges since the pandemic began – and many have reported significant spikes since classes resumed in recent weeks.
More than 500 cases were recorded at the University of Alabama and nearly 160 at the University of Missouri.
Meanwhile, the Universities of North Carolina and Notre Dame have decided to go online only for the coming weeks in a bid to control the number of cases on-campus.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College, said the figures are “striking.”
“This is an environment where the virus is still running ragged,” he said. “The community transmission in America is huge, so it was almost predictable that we would see all these cases.
“But certainly, it is a warning for us. When you reopen any educational institution, there is a risk of outbreaks and spread of the virus again.”
He said the situation illustrates just how contagious the virus is.
“If you like it is kind of an experiment,” he said. “The colleges reopen, they start measuring cases and then deaths inevitably follow the number of cases.
“These are young people dying, that is the tragedy of course. Now some of those deaths are probably high-risk groups when you break it down a bit but certainly, it is really alarming.”
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He said the colleges hare taking steps to take control of the situation with the University of Missouri announcing plans to test all students and staff twice a week.
“So, we are seeing outbreaks in American universities but again, it is not like it is here because the virus is still very prominent in the States,” he said.
“This came out and, within a minute, it was all over the world,” he said.
“It is a person in Hong Kong, 33-years-old, was coming through the airport and, low and behold, they pick up the virus in this person and they say, ‘I have already had it; I was sick a few months back,’” he said.
“So, they looked at the virus and it was slightly different to the one the person had had before so they knew it had to be a reinfection.”
He said the point to remember is that the person was sick the first time around; however, they have suffered no symptoms with their reinfection.
“Immunologists immediately said, ‘this is a good news story because this person had been infected before and they were protected,’” he said.
“Let’s say you have had the vaccine for measles. You might go in somewhere and pick up a tiny bit of measles off someone and your immune system kills it. You may well test positive but you won’t have any disease because you are protected because you have been vaccinated.
“So, the fact that this person had no symptoms was the positive side of this. But, of course, we need to see more cases because it is a single case.”
You can listen back to this morning’s Science with Luke O’Neill on The Pat Kenny Show here: