SRU will be implementing new COVID-19 testing protocols in the next few weeks as residents begin to move back to campus for the semester.
Testing was available at the Student Health Center and local testing facilities last semester upon request. But for the spring 2021 semester, SRU President William Behre believes students must be tested to prevent spread on campus, so the university decided to implement biweekly COVID-19 testing for on-campus residents and student-athletes.
Testing for the entire student population will be implemented in the weeks following, Behre said in an email to the campus community.
“The [COVID-19] test does not cure COVID,” Behre said in an interview via Zoom. “The test does not stop you from getting COVID. The test lets us know if you have it, and if we know quickly enough, you’re less likely to spread it to other people, and we can contain any kind of outbreak that much more effectively.”
The testing materials are projected to be available by mid-February. Behre said SRU is currently waiting for the supplier’s lab to be ready in order to send the equipment.
SRU will send completed tests to the lab at Shippensburg University, a sister university they partnered with for this new regime.
Slippery Rock went with a different supplier for spring athletes so they can be tested before they begin to practice. COVID-19 tests should be available to athletes within the next few days, according to Behre. Athletes will be tested weekly in order to comply with NCAA guidelines.
SRU decided to implement the saliva-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test because “people don’t like to stick the thing up their nose,” Behre said.
For the rest of the student population, those who are asymptomatic and are not athletes will receive a notice when testing becomes available on campus. Behre said there will either be assigned time slots for testing or students will be able to request a time to get tested.
SRU will be setting up a testing center at the Student Union. They hired Jennifer Stoepfel, a nurse practitioner, as its testing coordinator.
Students will check-in at the testing center and receive their test tube. They will scan the test tube with an app on their phone and spit into the tube. Students should seal it and drop it off at the next station before leaving the testing center.
SRU based their protocols on what other schools have done so far, but especially the University of Illinois. Behre said that the university will learn about the population as the semester continues and possibly alter their approach as they go.
“There may be groups within our population that we may test more often [than biweekly],” Behre said. “[You’re] gonna see us refining this over the course of the semester. What we are announcing now is our starting point, and I bet you our ending point is gonna be different.”
The Allegheny Health Network (AHN) remains as SRU’s outlet for medical advice. They are regularly in contact with their infectious disease professionals.
Behre projects that the on-campus population will increase by the fall 2021 semester, so he believes it is important to be able to slow the spread to prevent sending students home.
“Please don’t behave as though we are in the clear because we remain far from it,” Behre said in an email.