Rapid results a key element in aggressive campus testing plan
As with many higher ed campus reopening plan recipes, the ingredients for Bryant University in Rhode Island involve preparedness, prevention, education, screening, laboratory testing, case identification and contact tracing, staffing, and mitigation. The testing commitment for Bryant—including weekly on-site testing for all—has required a nearly $3 million investment.
“Testing plans vary widely. Ours is among the most aggressive and comprehensive with weekly testing (or more) for all students, staff, and faculty on campus,” says Jay Amrien, who is leading the testing program and will monitor results closely, increasing the frequency as indicated. The plan will “allow us to work with Rhode Island Department of Health in identifying trends that might suggest an outbreak and be able to quickly take steps to isolate cases and protect students and the campus community,” adds Amrien, who serves as director of Bryant’s Physician Assistant Program and co-chair of the Health and Safety Committee to Reopen.
Under the reopening plan for the mainly residential campus, the first order of business is making sure the community starts off the semester healthy. All faculty, staff and students must have a COVID-19 test completed within 14 days prior to arrival, with any positive cases being asked to isolate for 14 days before reporting to campus. Anyone who can’t be tested will be offered testing at a local lab as coordinated by Bryant Health Services.
The university is providing faculty, staff and students with oral thermometers so they can self-attest to their temperatures and lack of symptoms daily. The Bryant Health Check app screening will identify anyone who meet criteria for quarantine, and those who identify as being symptom-free will use the app as an access pass to any campus building or facility.
Weekly “surveillance” testing will occur at Bryant’s Multipurpose Athletic Center, with self-administered nasal swabs conducted in the presence of a health services professional. A BROAD Institute of MIT and Harvard lab will process samples, with results available to Bryant Health Services personnel in less than 24 hours. “With almost all students returning to campus this fall, this will result in over 4,000 tests per week just for surveillance testing,” says Amrien, adding that only one other higher ed institution in the state is conducting weekly testing for all.
Anyone with positive results will be sent home when possible. A designated on-campus isolation facility will also be available. A positive case will trigger an investigation by trained Bryant staff and the state department of health to determine who may be at risk and should be tested and quarantined.
And if the campus experiences an increase in case positive rates, the surveillance testing can be conducted even more regularly.
Detailed test scheduling information is accessible to students via the university’s Testing Info page.
From symptomatic to positive or negative—within an hour
Anyone developing symptoms while on Bryant’s campus will be directed to the newly constructed COVID Clinic, located in the Community Center at the Town Houses, so a health services professional can perform a rapid RT-PCR.
Bryant has purchased the GeneXpert Xpress System developed by Cepheid, considered a leading provider of molecular diagnostics, to conduct the highly sensitive rapid test.
The wait time for results? Forty-five minutes or less.
Getting results so quickly “can help us make rapid decisions about isolation and quarantine and can speed up the process of contact tracing,” says Amrien. On-campus testing could also be utilized if outside labs become overwhelmed at any point, he adds.
But those more obvious benefits aren’t the only ones. “The same machine allows us to simultaneously test for influenza and RSV, which would allow us to eliminate a potential COVID case and save on isolation and quarantine space,” Amrien explains. “This would also be an ideal test for a person who has very low-risk symptoms who are more than likely not COVID, and related to another condition, such as seasonal allergies.”
Overall, the testing plans are viewed by officials as key to opening and staying open. “The health and safety of our community is our highest priority,” said President Ross Gittell in a statement. “We are committed to testing on campus, which is critical for getting the rapid results that will help to keep our community safe and allow us to continue operations.”
Melissa Ezaik is senior managing editor of UB.