In preparation for the spring semester, the University of Arizona (UA) will require weekly COVID-19 testing from students and visitors. People who wish to enter the school must take a test and present negative results a week before their visit.
UA President Robert Robbins announced the new safety measure on Monday and said that even visitors must be tested so that the university can respond to the surge of COVID-19 cases across Arizona.
Robbins recognizes the difficulty in this request as some may only wish to check out the bookstores or other public spaces within the campus. With this in mind, the university will conduct a different, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which appears to be more comfortable and effective.
The ‘Gold Standard’ of COVID Testing
Dr. Michael Worobey, the Head of UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, informed the school about how these PCR tests work during a campus briefing. Those tested simply rinse their mouths with salt water for 45 seconds and spit it into a test tube.
Compared to the usual nasal and throat swab tests, which many complain are unpleasant, this swish and gargle test can extract the virus from 30 to 35 percent more people. Because it is self-administered, this test also lessens physical contact, which is safer for students and health care workers.
“It’s sort of thought of as the gold standard for how to test for the presence of the virus,” said Worobey. “This is different than the spit test and appears to be more sensitive and doesn’t require the production of large volumes of saliva, which is difficult for some,” he added.
The school is planning to start operations from January 6 to 12, which is the week students will be occupying the dormitories to prepare for the spring semester. With the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Arizona later this month, Robbins plans to require everyone on the campus to be vaccinated as further means of protection.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has tested over 50,000 students twice a week using saliva-based kits paired with the Safer Illinois app, developed by the university, to quickly notify the students of their results.
The frequent testing, along with other effective protocols, kept the surge in cases under control. As the spring semester nears, the university plans a phased return where students are required to test negative twice within four days to return.
The Georgia Institute of Technology also doubled testing when cases spiked during Halloween. The school even launched a MyTest website for students to access their results immediately.
Williams College is conducting weekly testing for students who remained on campus starting on November 23 while essential staff may receive two tests per week.