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CU Boulder and Purdue Announce Return-to-Campus Testing Plans

Two campuses have announced plans to require virus testing of students as part of coming back to campus. The University of Colorado Boulder said that students choosing to live on campus will be required to undergo a COVID-19 RT-PCR test, also known as a molecular test, within five days before moving into the residence halls. Most molecular tests require a nasal or throat swab and are considered highly accurate. Purdue University has also mandated testing for students before the start of the fall semester and has already identified positive cases for people who have come on campus.

At UC Boulder, the campus will be extending its move-in period to accommodate greater physical distancing. For students who are unable to be tested before they arrive, the university noted that it would be preparing "a limited number" of the RT-PCR tests as well as "rapid-response" tests on campus.

University staff will be able to obtain testing on campus as part of ongoing monitoring and contact tracing.

According to a memo issued by Provost Russell Moore and Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Patrick O'Rourke, the school is "working on plans to conduct surveillance testing to monitor up to 9,000 students, staff and faculty at higher risk for infection using pooled testing." This is a population-based strategy to detect the presence of infection within small groups. The university is also planning to implement monitoring of a daily wastewater at 20 campus locations, focusing on residence halls and specific high-use buildings.

And the institution said it was developing contact tracing capabilities "that will serve in conjunction with contact tracing through Boulder County Public Health." Contact tracers, at least some of whom will be students, will be trained as part of a memorandum of understanding with the county health department.

For those identified as having the virus, the campus has set aside facilities designated for isolation and quarantine for students living on campus.

Mask-wearing will be expected.

"These protocols, developed under expert guidance, will need to be aided by personal responsibility, respect and compassion for your fellow campus and community members," the memo added.

Students returning to Purdue's West Lafayette campus are expected to complete a COVID-19 test and file the results with the university's "Protect Purdue Health Center" (PPHC). That's a virtual operation that will coordinate the work of COVID-related case management on campus. It's led by Esteban Ramirez, an internist and clinical assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine-West Lafayette, which is on the Purdue campus. The cost of testing an expected 40,000 students will be covered by the university.

Those testing positive are advised not to travel to West Lafayette or come to campus until they've isolated for 14 days and are medically cleared to return by the PPHC.

Recently, the university announced that an initial group of students who have arrived on campus for the school's "Summer Start" and "Early Start" programs and were tested as part of their arrival and orientation process had an infection rate of 0.60 percent. Of 504 students and mentors participating in those programs, three tested positive. None had symptoms; all were temporarily living in the isolation area. The testing in that situation used an FDA-authorized, saliva-based qPCR test, developed by a Rutgers University spin-off, RUCDR Infinite Biologics, and its collaborators.

While students are being required to undergo testing, the same isn't true for faculty and staff, unless they've been sick, experienced symptoms of coronavirus or been exposed to someone who has tested positive. They are being asked, however "to adhere to the components of the Protect Purdue Pledge," which states: "I pledge to take responsibility for my own health, the protection of others and help keep the Purdue community safe from spread of COVID-19 and other infections as identified and instructed by the university."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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