U launches asymptomatic random testing program

The University of Utah launched the first phase of its voluntary asymptomatic random testing program on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. The program will help determine the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus and identify any outbreak hotspots.

The first phase focuses on students who live on campus or fraternity and sorority houses and will run through Oct. 12. The second phase, which begins Oct. 12, will expand to staff and faculty working on campus and students who have at least one in-person class. The second phase will continue to the Thanksgiving Break.

In both phases, those tested will be randomly selected from a roster of respondents to a brief emailed survey who indicate voluntary agreement to take a saliva test. Those who agree to participate will receive a follow-up email to schedule a day and time for them to be tested. The tests will be administered Monday through Friday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The phase one testing will take place in the Learning Lab room at Kahlert Village. The phase two testing will include the Saltair Room at the Union Building as a second option. Other locations may be added to increase convenience for faculty, staff and students.

For this program, the university is covering the cost of the test so there will be no charge to campus community members. Participants will need to have a MyChart account to receive their test results, which are expected to be returned within 24 to 72 hours. The U’s testing program, which has approved contact tracing designation from the Utah State Department of Health, will have access only to each participants’ test results.

“There are two reasons for doing this,” said Cameron M. Wright, manager of the U’s Campus COVID-19 Testing Program. “One is to get as clear a picture of COVID prevalence on campus as possible to know whether our campus programs are adequately protecting our community. Another is to have early identification of hot spots.”

Individuals may be carriers of coronavirus, which can lead to COVID-19, but have no symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals may be able to spread the virus to others. Participants who receive a positive test result will be asked to isolate and will be contacted by public health workers to identify any contacts, including fellow students, faculty or staff who may need testing, Wright said.

Students who have at least one in-person class or class component may be invited to participate. The U’s Human Resources office distributed a survey to staff and faculty in early September;  participants will be drawn from those who responded.

In addition to the asymptomatic random testing program, HRE continues to provide testing for residential students following school breaks during which they may have spent time away from campus. The testing booth in the parking lot of the Madsen Health Clinic also is testing students who are symptomatic or have received a contact tracing referral because of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19.

In all, the U campus community includes 62,000 students, staff and faculty. About 3,300 students are living on campus this fall. For information about the U’s coronavirus program visit coronavirus.utah.edu. If you have health and testing questions, call 801-587-0712.