Time to test

It’s a tall order: Test more than 32,000 students for COVID-19 before everyone heads out for Thanksgiving break. While that may seem like a daunting or maybe even impossible task the University of Utah is undertaking it. From Nov. 11-23, students are asked to report to one of the available locations and be tested for the coronavirus.

The decision to test all students for COVID-19 is not one being taken lightly. The fact is that despite all best efforts, the number of cases of the virus is rising at an alarming rate and so additional measures to stop the spread must be taken. These tests are part of those measures. We asked Cameron Wright, the program manager of campus COVID-19 testing about the plan.

What is the rationale behind testing every student?

It’s about safety. The question is how do we best keep the campus community safe? Of course, healthy behaviors, social distancing, masks, and hand-washing are the biggest part of that. But testing plays a critical role because of asymptomatic spread. We know that’s happened. With the state giving us access to additional rapid tests we now can expand the asymptomatic testing of the student population.

The more often we can conveniently get the students tested, the more quickly we can help identify those who we can support in isolating and keeping those around them safe as well. And then as an extension of that, the more programming we can keep available, which is really the value of this university experience. So, the more we test, the safer we keep everyone, the more quickly we can respond, the more programming we can keep online and available to our campus community.

How does this process work?

Students will receive a notification to sign up for a time to come into one of our multiple testing locations. We’re working to make them as convenient as possible for the students.

They will also be asked to download an app that will allow them to register so that the process goes very smoothly once they’re on site. That app will also give them their test results. It should be as simple as that for students.

Students will not be charged at any point for this test.

What should students do after being tested?

A positive test will trigger a confirmatory test.  The first thing that happens if somebody tests positive with a rapid test on site we will we’ll have them provide a saliva sample so that we can confirm that that test was in fact positive. In the meantime, they will be presumed positive so they will be asked to isolate to prevent spreading to other individuals while they’re waiting for their results.

If they are confirmed positive, then of course the isolation period begins. Students who test positive will follow the 14-day protocols for isolation and quarantine that comes as part of that.

Students who test negative will be asked to continue their safe behaviors. Just because you test negative once doesn’t mean you haven’t been exposed, or won’t be exposed in the future. The most important thing is to continue with practices like social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing.

Will there be more testing in the future?

We are hoping to regularly make this testing available to students in the spring semester.

Testing is just part of the plan to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among the campus community. Regardless of the number of tests available, or how often they are taken we must all take precautions like wearing masks and social distancing in order to stop the spread of the virus. Only by being vigilant in those efforts will we eventually get to a day where the number of positive tests reported is zero.