State officials say COVID-19 testing to ramp up on Utah’s college campuses; how schools are preparing

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Because of the significant rise in COVID-19 cases among young adults, state officials now say testing capabilities will soon be made more readily available to students on Utah’s college campuses.

“We’re going to accelerate the testing program today, to in fact include our college students…our professors and teachers and faculty at colleges,” said Governor Gary Herbert, during a press conference Monday.

Herbert and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said weekly testing for students who live or attend class on-campus – must begin as soon as possible, but no later than January 1.

“We do know that age group has been responsible for a lot of our cases and that start of this surge we’re currently in,” Dunn said.

Testing students became a priority after state health officials met with the White House’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, and Center’s for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

“They pushed us – as they did a lot of other states – to increase our rapid testing among university students in that setting particularly,” Dunn said.

As the Utah Department of Health works with higher education institutions, Dunn said in the meantime, public health officials will continue planning efforts for K-12 students. She said they will begin to address COVID-19 cases in extracurricular activities.  

“Because once again, our data is showing that students don’t tend to be infected in the school setting, but rather in the extracurricular setting,” Dunn said. “So, we wanna make sure that we can provide a safe environment for students to continuously engage in those extracurricular activities and testing will be part of that. But, starting with universities at first.”

Following the announcement, Utah colleges and universities are working through the details to prepare for mass testing.

Utah State University

At Utah State University, an email sent to students Monday said free weekly testing will begin for those who live on the Logan campus Wednesday, Nov. 11. For those who live off-campus in Logan, it begins Monday, Nov. 16.

And for those who attend one of the university’s local campuses, President Noelle Cockette said it may take a few weeks to bring the right resources to those locations.

“Some students will not have to be tested weekly, including: student-athletes already being regularly tested, those who have tested positive within the last 90 days, and students who have left campus to study remotely at their permanent home,” Cockette said.

As to how students will go about getting a test and other information, Cockette said it will be available in the coming days.

Weber State University

Two weeks ago, Weber State University received testing kits from the state and began testing symptomatic students, faculty, and staff.  

Spokesperson Allison Barlow Hess said they will now expand their efforts.

“Our initial goal is to have every Weber State student living or working on campus and those attending classes in person this semester tested prior to the Thanksgiving break and implement weekly testing of on-campus students no later than Jan. 1, 2021,” said Barlow Hess. “Faculty and staff are also encouraged to lead by example and get tested as well.”

Westminster College

Westminster College will continue to test as normal for the semester. But come next year, spokesperson Arikka Von said they too, will plan to implement weekly testing.

Salt Lake Community College

With details to be worked out surrounding the Governor’s order, Salt Lake Community College’s official Twitter account reports they will announce their COVID-19 testing plan for students in the near future.

Snow College

Snow College’s official Twitter account reported Monday evening that they are working on a plan for required testing, and will share information as it becomes available.

Utah Valley University

Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez encourages students, faculty and staff to participate in campus COVID-19 testing, following the Governor’s announcement.

In recent weeks Tuminez said UVU expanded their testing efforts, with kits that were provided by the Utah Department of Health.

UVU is also working with TestUtah to provide testing for the public on Wednesday, Nov. 11, or on Monday, Nov. 16.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University’s official Twitter account reports public health teams will expand testing for those who attend BYU, making sure everyone is able to be tested weekly.

“BYU will comply with every part of the executive order, including the required testing of students who are living on campus or attending at least one in-person class,” the Tweet said. “More information on the testing process at BYU will be communicated in the near future.”

Dixie State University

Dixie State University reports they will follow the Governor’s order and will take part in free weekly COVID-19 testing.

“Dixie State is continuing to work with the State of Utah to receive the test kits and details as we implement the best course of action moving forward,” the statement said. “While we don’t know all the specifics at this time, we do know that the self-administered nasal swab tests will be available on campus, results will be available in 15 minutes, members of the University community will not incur any fees, their privacy will be maintained throughout the process, and anyone who does test positive will be asked to immediately quarantine.”

Testing at DSU will begin as soon as possible.

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