The University of Richmond started COVID-19 prevalence testing on Sept. 8 and will continue prevalence testing throughout the remainder of the fall semester, Vice President and General Counsel Shannon Sinclair said on Sept. 18 in a press session with UR Administration and Collegian staff.
As a part of the prevalence testing procedure, 10% of in-person undergraduate students will be randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test bi-weekly, according to an email sent to students, faculty, staff and parents on Sep. 4 from David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost.
During the weeks undergraduate students are not being tested, 5% of the T.C. Williams School of Law, School of Professional and Continuing Studies and masters of business administration students will be tested, as well as 5% of faculty and staff in student and public-facing roles, according to the email.
Student-athletes and athletics staff members in medium or high-contact sports will be tested every two weeks to comply with NCAA protocols, according to the email.
The Sept. 8 round of testing did not reveal any positive cases, according to a COVID-19 update email sent Sept. 15 to the UR community from Hale and Legro.
"The testing we did as people were arriving on campus and our prevalence testing are two components of a larger testing strategy that also includes testing for people who are symptomatic and testing for people who've been identified through contact tracing as close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID," Sinclair said.
The initial mass COVID-19 tests that were conducted upon students arrival in August and ongoing prevalence tests are two components of a larger testing strategy, Sinclair said. The Virginia Department of Health advised UR to select undergraduates for prevalence testing randomly, but students and employees can be selected more than once, but will not have to be tested in two consecutive rounds, Sinclair said.
Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to undergo testing, but are not required, Sinclair said. Faculty and staff are not required to get tested if they are selected for prevalence testing.
Sinclair said the UR administration had also considered demographic information provided by the Virginia Department of Health website when it decided not to require faculty and staff to get tested if selected for prevalence testing. In Virginia overall and specifically in the city of Richmond, the 20-29 age group has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, Sinclair said.
UR has been conducting prevalence testing with PCR tests, which are molecular tests collected from nasal or throat swabs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Healthcare provider SecureHealth is managing the testing process, Sinclair said.
UR entered in its relationship with SecureHealth in May when the school was trying to find a company with the capacity to test students and run an on-campus clinic, Sinclair said. One of the Richmond-area startup company's CEOs is UR alumnus Mark Rausch.
Public officials advised UR to not test more than 10% of the student body and for UR not to test more frequently than every two weeks, according to Hale and Legro's Sept. 4 email.
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"[Officials] note a high incidence of false positives with such broad testing and caution that such testing could have an adverse impact on the availability of tests and the turnaround time for test results in our local community," they wrote. “As noted, we will continue to adjust our methodology for prevalence testing in light of new developments and as conditions warrant."
There are concerns among administrators who were in the meeting with Collegian staff that prevalence testing results showing few to no COVID-19 cases could lead to students being more relaxed with the rules. If students refused to participate in prevalence testing, they would be referred to the Student Conduct Council, she said.
Those selected for testing are notified with an email that includes a link to sign up for a testing time slot, according to an email sent to Mascarenhas notifying her of her selection.
Juniors Rose Mascarenhas and Chester Todd were both tested on the morning of Sept. 8, they said. The prevalence testing process was the same as the process at the beginning of the semester, both said, and the tests were done quickly. Neither Mascarenhas nor Todd was told at the time of testing when they would receive their results, they said. Todd received his results on Thursday.
“All my friends were like, ‘Oh, you're so lucky,' like, 'I want to get tested again,’” Mascarenhas said, later adding that her roommate was happy that Mascarenhas was selected because she saw it as a test for both of them.
Mascarenhas said she had initially not been happy to be selected for prevalence testing because testing was painful for her the first time.
Todd said he had found the testing more painful the second time, but he understood why UR was conducting prevalence testing.
“I think the school’s done a very good job," he said. "Obviously getting the email is like, ‘Oh no, I don't want that thing stuck in my nose again,’ but I get that they’re doing it for all the right reasons.”
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