May 29, 2020

The summer will provide a key test of the campus’s ability to monitor the health of faculty, staff and students, and respond to any flareups of COVID-19 with contact tracing and quarantines. Starting in June, it is likely that some researchers, including graduate students, will be allowed back on campus, subject to daily health screenings and with the requirement of face coverings and social distancing. A study led by the School of Public Health will monitor several thousand of them with diagnostic and antibody tests to track their health status and determine the prevalence within the campus community of asymptomatic COVID-19 and of antibodies indicating past infection with SARS-CoV-2. This study will provide guidance on how frequently to test people as they return to campus, and help the campus decide whether and how many undergraduates to allow on campus in the fall. The campus has its own testing lab, a pop-up in the Innovative Genomics Institute, that is able to run 1,000 tests for COVID-19 daily. IGI scientists hope soon to be able to use saliva samples provided by individuals, which appear to provide excellent sensitivity based on recent evidence and have the added benefit that swabbing by health care professionals will not be necessary. This would free frontline health providers to deal with symptomatic students and to trace personal contacts of those who test positive for the virus. The good news is that the diagnostic testing done to date by IGI through University Health Services on symptomatic students and staff turned up only about three members of the campus community who were positive for COVID-19. The campus expects that, as people return from places around the nation, infections will occur. It is critical that the campus have plans in place to discover these cases quickly, before the virus can spread widely, notify and isolate all close contacts, and have at the ready quarantine rooms for the infected and close contacts with isolation beds for those with COVID-19 symptoms.