BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Since launching a new, centralized check-in process this month, Indiana University has tested more than 39,000 students for COVID-19 upon their arrival to one of four residential campuses. With 81 percent of those on-arrival tests processed, the university had a 0.91 percent positivity rate – a prevalence in line with the university’s expectations and also with two statewide studies, led by IUPUI and the Indiana State Department of Health, that have been performed in Indiana.
As students have tested positive, they have either returned home with their families to isolate, are isolating off-campus, or have been isolated in housing reserved for that purpose; their close contacts are in quarantine.
Testing decisions and programs across U.S. colleges and universities have varied, with many schools heavily relying on testing of symptomatic individuals. IU elected to administer a rapid-result COVID-19 test to asymptomatic students upon their arrival to campuses. The university also required all on-campus students to submit a negative COVID-19 test 10 days before arriving.
Guided by science, data and nationally recognized experts, IU’s comprehensive, multi-tiered testing program – which transitions this week to continual mitigation testing of students, faculty and staff – is the cornerstone of the university’s Fall 2020 plan to resume in-person activities, maintain the health and safety of the IU community, and minimize the spread of COVID-19 on its campuses and surrounding areas.
“All of the actions we have taken during the global pandemic – including the development and rapid deployment of one of higher education’s most robust, comprehensive and efficient testing and screening programs for COVID-19 – have been geared toward the single purpose of keeping the IU community as safe and healthy as possible,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “With the solid public health, medical and safety infrastructure we already have in place, we are ensuring our campuses and communities are safe – and, confronted by one of the most difficult challenges IU has ever faced, we are setting big goals. This virus exists everywhere, and our campuses are no exception, but we are determined for it to be safer to be part of the IU community than it is to not be part of our community.”
IU’s ability to accurately test for the COVI9-19 virus, understand the presence of the virus in its campus communities and keep Hoosiers safe from the pandemic is led by top scientists, researchers and clinicians at the IU School of Medicine, IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.
IU administered on-arrival tests for COVID-19 to 39,246 students on the four campuses that have on-campus housing since the start of its revised move-in process, which began Aug. 9. Of the 32,002 tests processed so far, 0.91 percent came back positive for the virus.
All students living in on-campus housing at IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU South Bend and IU Southeast, as well as IU Bloomington students living off-campus, were required to go through the on-arrival testing process. IU Bloomington students attending classes exclusively online, and who will not be living in or coming to Bloomington for any reason during the fall semester, were not required to be tested.
The on-arrival test for students planning to live on campus was a rapid-result antigen test, with samples taken from inside students’ nostrils. Students learned their test result within 30 minutes. Those living off-campus underwent a saliva test, with results available in about 72 hours.
All students living in on-campus housing were additionally required to undergo a diagnostic or viral test for COVID-19 within 10 days of their permanent move-in date.
“We relied on the quickest and most efficient tests available in recognition that people who are tested and screened are less likely to spread the virus,” said Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, IU’s director of surveillance and mitigation for the COVID-19 pandemic and a professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine. “Very few organizations have engaged in rapid and robust testing of this scale, or even close to it. But it was critical for us to test as many members of the IU community as possible so that we could safely and confidently begin on-campus, in-person learning.”
Starting this week, IU is transitioning to continual mitigation testing of IU students, faculty and staff, who will be chosen throughout the year to be tested. Mitigation testing is beginning this week with the re-testing of IU Bloomington and IUPUI students who are living on campus.
IU mitigation testing, which will involve a saliva test, will be conducted at on-campus sites. The university has set a goal of collecting more than 10,000 test samples weekly across all of our campuses.
Individuals selected for mitigation testing will receive an email notifying them of their selection, how to schedule their test and additional information about the testing process.
Members of the IU community will likely be tested multiple times over the semester.
“We’re confident that the round-the-clock mitigation testing that we are now initiating – which too few organizations our size have the ability or willingness to manage – along with symptomatic testing and robust contact tracing and isolation, gives us the best chance to keep us all together on our campuses,” Carroll said.