Asymptomatic Student Testing
Following consultation with public health experts, administrators, health care providers and other leaders, Saint Louis University implemented expanded testing of asymptomatic students starting the week of Sept. 14, 2020.
When considering expanding testing to asymptomatic students, we explored several well-known national models implemented at other universities. Ultimately, we considered the viability and efficacy of four key models:
- Testing all students every few days
- Testing all students weekly
- Testing a random sample of our on-campus students weekly
- Periodic, targeted testing of students who are not “close contacts” of known infected individuals, but who may have broad enough connections that there is a potential risk worth exploring (i.e., selective or cluster testing)
In reviewing these options, we sought to weigh several critical factors, including the utility, goals, and feasibility of implementation for each. We also considered the impact of our choices on test availability in our broader region.
After careful review, we decided to adopt two of the four models we were exploring. Together, these approaches allow us to gain much greater insight into possible COVID-19 spread on campus. Here are the key features:
- We will continue to test any students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- We will test a random sample of 10% of our on-campus students every week. This testing option allows us to monitor the prevalence rate of COVID-19 among students who live on campus.
- As needed, we also will test select clusters or groups identified by our contact tracing team as having a high potential for risk. Individuals tested in this group could include both on-campus and off-campus residents, as well as staff or faculty members who may be associated with the group. For example, if contact tracers detected concerns about a larger group, we could choose to test all students and faculty in a given research lab, the entire floor of a residence hall, an entire student athletics team, or an entire student organization. This testing option allows us to detect broader COVID-19 spread and to disrupt potential outbreaks.
- Additionally, we will test all in-season athletes and athletic staff weekly at a minimum. Teams that will play in regular season competitions will be tested three times a week, as per NCAA rules.
Operationalizing These Plans
Unlike the previous asymptomatic COVID-19 testing we conducted at SLU, these tests are saliva-based. We have partnered with Genetworx for the test. Our Valentine School of Nursing students are helping to collect samples every Tuesday and Thursday through mid-November. Here’s how it works:
- Each week, a random sample of students who live on campus are selected; random sampling is conducted by a biostatistics faculty member at SLU. Additionally, the testing team may identify one or more groups for selective testing.
- Each person selected receives an email by Friday alerting them that they have been chosen to get tested. (Note: Students are not informed whether they are part of the randomly-generated pool or a selected group.) That email will give them a registration link to pick a time block on Tuesday or Thursday when they can report to the Simon Recreation Center for testing.
- When a student arrives at the Simon Recreation Center for testing, a nursing student
checks them in, gives them instructions and takes the sample.
Our testing team then ships the test samples to Genetworx for overnight delivery, after which it will take about 24 to 48 hours for test results.
- Students who test negative receive an email alert. Students who test positive receive a phone call from a member of the testing team to discuss the result and help make arrangements to move to isolation housing either on or off campus. The contact tracing team then follows up to identify close contacts who need to quarantine.
Individual cooperation with this process is essential to living our commitments to one another and to the safety of our community. Cooperation also is explicit in each community member’s pledge to the Campus Commitment. Specifically, faculty, staff and students have agreed to “follow all public health requirements and recommendations from the St. Louis Health Department, Saint Louis University, Employee Health and Student Health, including testing for COVID-19, participating in contact tracing interviews, and staying at home until I am cleared to return to class or work.”
We recognize that many in our community are hoping to see more widespread testing of asymptomatic students, staff, and faculty. Certainly, we are continuing to examine the utility and feasibility of more widespread testing. It is important to know, however, that virtually every public health and medical expert we consulted felt the plans we are adding are appropriate for understanding the extent to which it is safe to continue living, learning, and working on campus.
In adding these testing options, we will continue to learn about the spread of COVID-19 in our campus community. If we find that prevalence rates are higher than anticipated, or if we begin to see significant positivity rates in targeted testing groups, that will be a signal that we must do more.
As we have said before, our testing plans remain fluid. Our team is continuously reviewing options for testing, as well as the testing results data from our campus community. If there is benefit to adding additional asymptomatic testing, we will do so.