EDITOR’S NOTE: This story’s reporting was completed before SRU’s announcement of delays in test results.
As the COVID-19 testing center at the University Union enters its fourth week of asymptomatic testing, Kristina Benkeser, the director of student health services, encourages students on and off campus to get tested to know their status. Over 3,500 students have taken advantage of the saliva-based testing so far.
According to the SRU campus COVID-19 cases webpage as of Wednesday, there have been 1,042 total asymptomatic tests administered to the general population. Five of those tests came back positive. For athletics, 2,531 asymptomatic tests have been administered, and 10 of them were positive.
In the 3,573 asymptomatic tests administered, 15 tests came back positive, which is less than a 0.05% positivity rate.
There are 32 students in quarantine and 17 in isolation. There are no faculty and staff in quarantine or isolation as of Wednesday. The campus cases webpage defines quarantine as a form of self-isolation after close contact with someone that has COVID-19 or someone who is ill and waiting for test results. It defines isolation as a form of self-isolation for people with COVID-19 or who are ill and waiting for test results.
As for testing through the Student Health Center, there’s been a total of 68 positive COVID-19 cases on campus since Jan. 19.
In an email to stakeholders, SRU President William Behre said as we reach the midpoint of the semester, total case numbers represent a 44% decrease in cumulative cases at the same point in the fall semester.
All information to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test can be found in the SRU Student Health Portal. Benkeser said students have been getting their results back from 24 to 48 hours after getting tested. But, there are students that have waited up to five days for their results.
“The vast majority [of results] are falling in that window,” Benkeser said. “There have been a few sporadic days here and there where the times have been lengthened. You don’t know if there was an extraordinary demand at the lab, if there was an outbreak, you don’t know what causes a little bit of a delay.”
The lab does not process specimens on the weekend, Benkeser said, so if a student got tested on Friday, they will not be processed until Monday.
Benkeser said she believes that delays in results could have to do with the national shortage of lab technicians.
“Right now, lab technicians are in extremely short supply,” Benkeser said. “So even if a lab can physically build capacity and you can get all the machines and all the pieces, if there isn’t the lab person there to run it, then it just gathers dust.”
Symptomatic test results are the main priority, Benkeser said, so that is why the asymptomatic test results may take a little longer. The results of symptomatic tests administered at the Health Center typically come back within 24 hours.
The free COVID-19 testing is mandatory for all residential students and student athletes. For off-campus students, testing is strongly encouraged, but not required.
Benkeser said the hardest part of the saliva test is producing enough saliva to fill the tube, but other than that, it’s a “extremely simple process.”
“It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s convenient,” Benkeser said in a Zoom call. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is get back to where you can go to Rocky’s and get your lunch, you can go to the library, you can meet your friends, or whatever it is.”
She emphasized that the community has the opportunity to define what post-pandemic looks like on campus. She hopes it looks “a lot like pre-pandemic.”
Despite there being a total of 68 campus cases this semester, Benkeser said she worries that St. Patrick’s Day events may be “superspreaders” of COVID-19.
“It’s a lot of people in a usually relatively small space who are dancing, singing, laughing, yelling, shouting,” Benkeser said. “I hate to say it, but some may share drink containers. [A]lcohol lowers all the inhibitions, so people who might be good hand washers, good masker wearers and good social distancers aren’t doing any of those things.”