College Students Should Be Tested Frequently to Keep Campuses Open

Ruben Hill
August 5, 2020

A new study looking at the risk of coronavirus infection in college campuses suggests COVID-19 testing for students nearly every other day as one of the measures to avoid outbreaks.

"Although the title and the basic finding is that there is a way to reopen college safely as long as you screen every two or three days and adhere strictly to social distancing, the subtext I think is pretty clear", Paltiel told Inside Higher Ed.

"Having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen", Redfield said. "This sets a high bar-logistically, financially and behaviorally-that may be beyond the capacity of many universities, and everything that could go wrong has to go right to avert an outbreak", he tells the wire service. Many colleges have announced alternatives to in-person courses when the fall 2020 semester begins.

The study assumed that students would be isolated after testing positive for the virus and also worked under the understanding that students would be moved to an "isolation dormitory" after received confirmed results. The University of IL announced Monday it will test students, faculty and staff twice a week if they "participate in any on-campus activities".

The study, which was authored by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, found that conducting even poorly sensitive and low-priced tests every two days would "maintain a controllable number of COVID-19 infections and permit the safe return of students to campus".

Although new forms of testing that could be faster, more accurate, cheaper or all three may be on the horizon, the scientists estimated that each test would cost between $10 to $50 a piece (for both the test kit and associated costs like staff to administer the tests).

Testing every student every two days and quickly isolating those with positive results should avoid widespread SARS-CoV-2 infections on college campuses, whereas only testing students with symptoms would not, according to a modeling study published Friday (July 31) in JAMA Network Open.

"I know that many schools are following [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and considering the option of just carefully monitoring students for symptoms and using signs of illness to trigger isolation and testing and contact tracing and quarantine".

But the expenses for testing students every other day would be high.

Daily screening would have similar results for isolation, and keep the number of students who got infected to a minimum of 60 infected students at any given time.

It would cost a somewhat more modest $24 million (still enough to send almost 200 students to a public university for a year).

The study was published on the JAMA Open Network on July 31, for the goal of discovering what kind of COVID-19 screening process should be put in place in order to maintain a safe reopening process for colleges as September approaches. More sophisticated testing will be used on students with symptoms, the newspaper reported.

'Reopening college campuses imposes risks that extend beyond students to the faculty who teach them, the many university employees (administrative and facilities staff) who come into close daily contact with them, and the countless other members of the surrounding community with whom students come into contact, ' the authors wrote.

'University presidents have a duty to consider the downstream effect of their reopening decisions on these constituencies.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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