SRU to provide COVID-19 testing to students
Slippery Rock University is implementing a new COVID-19 testing protocol for the spring 2021 semester that will offer testing for all students on campus at the University Union.
Jan. 20, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University has initiated a new COVID-19 testing protocol for the spring 2021 semester. Testing will begin in the next few weeks for both residential students and for student-athletes. A separate testing protocol available for the entire student population will be rolled out in the weeks that follow.
SRU, which is providing the testing through a partnership with Shippensburg University, will send testing specimens to a centralized laboratory at SU that is modeled after a testing protocol from the University of Illinois. SRU's testing was originally planned to launch Jan. 19 but a delay in obtaining the final pieces of equipment for the Shippensburg lab has required SRU to begin its testing through a third-party vendor, Virus Geeks, a California-based biohealth technology company that specializes in COVID-19 testing.
At SRU, residential students will be tested shortly after the activation of an on-site testing center next month and then every other week, while student-athletes will be tested weekly in order to comply with NCAA guidelines.
"Testing is a major step toward a safer campus environment and we're pleased to be able to partner with Shippensburg University to be able to make this available to our students," said SRU President William Behre. "While testing won't prevent anyone from contracting the virus, it does help us take measures to prevent outbreaks on campus. We're grateful for everyone's patience and participation in our testing as we continue our collective efforts to resume safe, on-campus activities."
SRU started its spring semester Jan. 19 with all classes being conducted online until Feb. 1, when some classes –– approximately 20% –– will switch to in-person instruction. The first two weeks of classes are being conducted online so that the first phase of testing can be implemented for residential students. The 80/20 split of online and in-person classes is the same model used by the University in the fall 2020 semester to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
To facilitate the new testing program, SRU will be setting up a testing center in the University Union located at 103 Central Loop. The University has hired Jennifer Stoepfel, a nurse practitioner, as its testing coordinator.
Students will be administered a polymerase chain reaction test, which detects the genetic material specific to the coronavirus within days of infection, even for students who show no symptoms. Results will be determined within two days for those sent to Shippensburg and three days for the Virus Geeks lab.
"The PCR is considered the gold standard because it's the most accurate type of testing," said Kris Benkeser, SRU director of student health and wellness. "Other types of test rapid tests, such as the antigen test, detect proteins, not the actual virus. The PCR is going to be more reliable by detecting the presence of the virus."
Students required to participate in the first phase of testing are being contacted by Residence Life staff or their coaching staffs regarding instructions. For the first phase of testing, students will self-administer the test by inserting a nasal swab just inside each of their nostrils and place the swab in a vial. The test is painless and does not involve a long, invasive nasopharyngeal swab.
The second phase of testing for the general student population will be saliva based. The samples will be sent to Shippensburg, which uses test kits produced at the University of Illinois that ask those tested to "drool a small amount of saliva into a sterile test tube."
Instructions about the second phase testing protocol will be emailed to students once the SU lab is operational. The second phase is anticipated to begin in mid-February, at which time all SRU students will be offered biweekly testing. SRU is anticipating testing more than 1,500 students per week after the second phase begins.
Testing is for students who are not showing COVID-19 symptoms. Students who have symptoms or have recently come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should instead contact the Student Health Center at 724.738.2052.
SRU's program is an expansion of the fall 2020 semester COVID-19 testing, which was arranged through the Student Health Center for students who showed symptoms. More than 330 tests were administered during the fall semester, of which there were 83 positive cases. Overall last semester, there were more than 240 confirmed student cases, which included off-campus students who tested positive elsewhere.
"The change for the spring semester is more about testing students regardless of whether they have symptoms or not in order to identify the potential for an outbreak," said David Wilmes, chief student affairs officer. "Previously, we tested students who indicated that they were not feeling well, using the test to figure out why the student was sick. The spring semester will be more about screening and better protecting the entire community from an outbreak in addition to treating individuals."
According to Wilmes and Benkeser, there are multiple reasons why SRU did not offer PCR testing in the fall, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines not recommending the testing of asymptomatic testing on college campuses. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released testing recommendations and guidance for COVID-19 management for institutions of higher education, and a PCR screening program similar to what SRU is conducting is recommended. Additionally, the PCR tests have since become more accurate and readily available.
Student-athletes will follow the same testing protocol for the entire spring semester, while residential students will begin the second phase, saliva-based tests with the general student population in mid-February. For the second phase, students will be provided directions to download a mobile app to their smartphones for which they can schedule their appointment at the testing center. Results will also be available through the mobile app.
"For data security purposes, there will be no personally identifiable information transferred between the mobile app, the testing center and the lab," said John Ziegler, associate provost of information and administrative technology services. "The students will receive a barcode that is scanned and identified on a test tube. The only thing that's going to transmit is the barcode and then the results will show up in our records system that we use for Student Health Services."
Students who receive a positive test will be contacted by Student Health Services with instructions regarding isolation, or they can also call the Student Health Center, which is open 24/7, at 724.738.2052.
For more information about the COVID-19 testing program at SRU, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 724.738.2003.
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