Some college campuses encouraging COVID-19 testing of students before vacation

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SALT LAKE CITY (TBEN/TBEN) – Schools across the United States are working quickly to ramp up COVID-19 testing as students prepare to return home for the holidays. The effort is aimed at preventing infections from spreading further as the virus spreads across the country.

Thousands of coronavirus cases have been connected to campuses since some colleges reopened this fall, forcing students to quarantine themselves in dormitories and switch classes online. Now, many students are heading home for Thanksgiving, increasing the risk of the virus spreading among family, friends and other travelers.

“The responsibility and scope of the impact no longer rests just with the student body, but with those close contacts,” said Emily Rounds, a student who helps collect data on college test plans at scale. National Council for Davidson College’s Crisis College Initiative.

College pandemic plans vary widely. About one-third of four-year colleges started mostly in person this fall, the initiative’s researchers found by tracking about 1,400 schools.

Only about 100 colleges initially tested all students once or twice a week, regardless of symptoms, as part of their back-to-school plans. Many others have tested random samples of students or tested those with symptoms – neither is considered sufficient to stop the spread of the disease, said Christopher Marsicano, professor of the disease. education to Davidson who founded the project.

Since early November, however, researchers have seen a noticeable increase in schools requiring or encouraging students to get tested before Thanksgiving. For many colleges, the holidays mark the end of in-person learning of the year, whether transferring courses online has always been the plan to prevent students from bringing the virus back to campus or whether it has become the response to the surge in infections nationwide, which have now exceeded 11.7 million.

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Some colleges look to the states for help paying for the additional tests, while others rely on those developed by their own researchers.

The University of Notre Dame announced a test warrant after thousands of football fans, many without masks, stormed the field in South Bend, Indiana, and held parties to celebrate an upset in double overtime against Clemson this month. Those who do not complete the test cannot register for future courses.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee has a similar requirement, as does the New York public university system.

The University of Pittsburgh, however, does not test students before they leave, fearing that a single test is unreliable and that a negative result could give students a false sense of security.

“They’re going to get together immediately with their high school friends and families, and there’s going to be a lot of outbreaks,” said Dr. John Williams, director of the school’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office.

Many schools, from the University of Texas at Austin to Ohio State University, fall somewhere in between, encouraging but not requiring testing. The governors of seven northeastern states, including New York, have urged area colleges to offer testing to all students returning home for Thanksgiving.

The few institutions that already regularly test students even without symptoms need not change much.

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The University of Illinois performs about 10,000 saliva tests a day, catching each student two or three times a week with a test developed by its own researchers. A mandatory app reminds students to get tested and helps track those who test positive while in quarantine. It also includes a scan needed to enter campus buildings, allowing only those who are up to date with their tests.

“People love it now. They believe, at the end of the day, that it’s the safest place in the world, ”said Bill Jackson, executive director of the university’s Discovery Partners Institute and helping manage the pandemic response plan. school, which also includes the wearing of masks and social distancing.

For other schools, finding and paying for tests has been a major hurdle amid economic upheaval related to viruses, said Rounds, the student data collector.

“It can’t just be this narrative of blaming students and administrations … I really think at this point we have to look to the state governments and the federal government to have some accountability,” a- she declared. “So many cases of COVID in the United States are coming from higher education institutions – this should be a target point for interventions.”

Governments are getting involved in some places, like North Carolina, where the state provides testing for schools before the holidays, and Utah, where the governor has mandated weekly testing starting in January and the state is helping with rapid response test kits. .

At the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, the state helped find 3,500 tests before the Thanksgiving break. Previously, only students with symptoms and some in close contact with someone with COVID-19 could get tested.

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But now there is a shortage of medical staff to administer the additional tests. That means professors like journalism professor Mark Neuzil stepped in as the university began mass testing on Wednesday, administering around 100 tests per hour, he said.

“The state provides you with the tests and then says, ‘Good luck’ because there aren’t enough medical staff for everyone,” Neuzil said. “Of course we have health services and nurses, but they work like dogs and there aren’t enough of them.

For students, testing availability can be a relief.

Ben Ferney, a 24-year-old communications specialist at Weber State University in northern Utah, recently took a rapid response test on a folding table set up in a student union ballroom. He caught the virus this summer, but since it’s still unclear how long the immunity lasts, he wants to make sure he doesn’t catch it again.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick in my life,” Ferney said. He said he apparently spread the virus to his parents and two siblings before he even knew he was sick.

Because “2020 has been full of unknowns, it’s easy to constantly have this on my mind,” he said. Regular testing “helps me move forward, knowing that my presence around other people is not a threat to them.”

(© Copyright 2020 TBEN Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. The The Bharat Express News contributed to this report.)

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