University and college campuses around the world have been nearly deserted since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost a year ago, forcing students to learn from professors and lecturers via Zoom. But Israeli researchers have found a way to help the institutions of higher learning open up again, even before everyone is vaccinated.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa has announced an extensive testing operation as a fundamental protective measure for dormitory residents. The “NaorCov19” test being used in Haifa was developed last April by Prof. Naama Geva-Zatorsky of the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.
“To protect the health of campus visitors and residents, to lead as normal a lifestyle as possible and to return to routine life during the pandemic, it is necessary to break the chain of infection rapidly, through effective monitoring and diagnosis,” said Technion president, Professor Uri Sivan. “Living alongside COVID-19 is an enormous challenge for all the population, and I hope and believe the rapid implementation of the novel technologies developed by Technion researchers will assist us in arresting the spread of the virus, and that it will serve as a model for other places across the country.”
The technology has been commercialized by the Technion for further development by Rapid Diagnostic Systems ltd., which is developing the molecular diagnostic platform under the name “Naor.” (www.naordia.com). The technology had been field tested and developed in collaboration with multiple institutions and researchers including MAFAT (the research and development arm of the Israeli Ministry of Defense) and Rambam Medical Center near the Technion.
The NaorCov19 test rapidly detects the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is based on a saliva sample and a short isothermal process that can be done on-premises. The process takes less than an hour if done on site, and dozens or even hundreds of samples can be processed simultaneously. Technion students and staff leave saliva samples at stations around campus and use their phones to record it. They are then electronically notified about the results within a few hours of the sample collection. The Technion community members are encouraged to be tested at least once a week, in order to reduce the risk of campus infection.
Thanks to its simplicity, the NaorCov19 is suitable for rapid testing on campuses and schools, at workplaces, airports and even onboard airplanes. It is also scheduled for self-testing at home.
At the start of the 2020-21 academic year, the Technion administration announced the “Creating an Open and Safe Campus” initiative, which offers multi-layered protection of campus visitors. The First Layer is strict adherence to the “purple badge” rules: wearing a mask, hygiene, and social distancing.
The Second Layer involves the monitoring of the campus sewage system using novel technology developed at Technion by Prof. Eran Friedler of the department of environmental and water engineering. Sewage testing supports the monitoring of a large population, effectively and rapidly locating cases without the need to reach each individual. It has already effectively disrupted potential chains of coronavirus infection.
The soon to be implemented Third Layer is the Technion-developed “NaorCov19” test. This individual, rapid, and non-invasive system will help track and diagnose cases on campus.
The Fourth Layer involves regular PCR tests for those who have relevant symptoms or who test positive on the “NaorCov19” test. Since the “NaorCov19” test is still waiting for the approval of Israel’s Health Ministry, persons who test positive go on to take a regular PCR test for confirmation.