Michaela Lumpert, Campus Carrier news editor
On Monday Berry began testing of all students as part of a new investigation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting on campus.
Chief of Staff Debbie Heida explained that the college’s number one goal this year was to stay in person. Berry has been working on creating a plan to continually test students last semester as new research about frequent testing showed its success, but the process was still too new to administer. But when November’s testing session revealed 40 students tested positive for the virus, administration knew it was time to start frequent testing.
“The national research and organizations were telling us ‘you really need to have a good plan for surveillance testing in order to be in session,’” Heida said.
Surveillance testing, as Heida explained, is the frequent testing of the community to better monitor the transmission of the virus.
“It’s the best way of us knowing the safety of our community,” Heida said. “It’s also the best way we can monitor and know if it’s a good idea to do things more openly than how we started the semester.”
The testing that has happened this week and will continue to happen for the next nine weeks is a part of a larger investigation that the CDC is conducting at Berry. This is the third investigation the CDC has done on campus. Sarah Tinker, an epidemiologist at the CDC, has been on campus the past three days, overseeing the testing and the process of the investigation.
This investigation will be done in two different phases and testing to see whether at home COVID-19 tests are effective in monitoring the transmission of the virus. According to Tinker, the first phase of testing includes the antibody testing of students in order to check students for COVID-19 antibodies.
Participants will then test at home twice a week with rapid antigen tests. According to Heida, a picture of the test results will need to be posted to the participants Vikingweb account under the COVID-19 tab each time they take an at-home test. This is to ensure that the school and the CDC are monitoring the at-home tests and test results of participants.
Heida also explained that the at-home test will require participants to swab their noses and place the swab in a vial containing liquid that will determine if the participant is positive or negative for COVID-19. The results take about 15 minutes to develop.
At the end of the nine weeks, the investigation will end with another blood draw to see how many of these participants had COVID-19 over the course of the investigation.
According to Tinker, the investigation is also looking at “true-pair testing,” to see the accuracy of the at-home tests. This involves the participant taking a PCR test and then going back to their home and taking an at-home test the same day. Because of the wintery weather around the country, the at-home tests were delayed and did not arrive until Wednesday.
“We’ll still compare people’s first [at-home] test result with their PCR result but it won’t be quite as good as a comparison since they were not on the same day,” Tinker said.
In the Week 6 Update email, it was explained that students can get their at-home kits in the main lobby of Krannert between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. this Thursday and Friday.
So far, no other colleges have yet to create a partnership with CDC like Berry has, as Tinker explained. This is the only investigation that the CDC is conducting with a college to test the at-home tests at the moment.
According to Tinker, the purpose of this investigation is to find ways on how to test more effectively on a college campus throughout in-person semesters.
Tinker also stated that at-home tests will allow students the ability to test quickly and effectively from the safety of their dorm rooms rather than congregating in one large area, thus reducing the possibility of transmission.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce transmission,” Tinker said.
With this round of testing, Heida explained that there will also be consequences for students who are not getting tested that should be tested. According to Heida, the only students who are exempt from getting tested are students who tested positive within the last 90 days and students who have positive antibody test results.
Students who are do not get tested and are not exempt from testing will lose their visitation rights.
Heida also stated that a majority of students who have not been tested yet are probably facing two issues that she and the administration understand students are experiencing.
“There’s two difficulties right now when people think about testing,” Heida said. “One is I think there is some testing fatigue and people are just really tired of COVID.”
This testing will continue, according to Heida.
“Until we can get everyone vaccinated, this really is how we keep our community safe,” Heida said.
Because of the delay in the at-home tests, administration is expected to notify participants of the change to the timeline of the study. The email will also explain the process in which participants can pick up their at-home tests.
The invesitgation is optional for all students, faculty and staff, but the PCR testing is mandatory.