COVID-19 Testing, a Crucial Part of the Plan

by University Marketing and Communications

With the start of the 2020-21 academic year and the arrival of thousands of new and returning students, COVID-19 testing is a crucial part of Michigan Tech’s plan for fall.

Sarah Schulte, general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, said the University’s student COVID-19 testing program has two main components — a strong baseline testing effort and ongoing surveillance testing

Schulte said the baseline testing effort will primarily occur from Aug. 19, through Aug. 29. During that time, about half of the student population, approximately 40% of the anticipated total on-campus population, is expected to be tested.

“Going forward, Michigan Tech is planning to conduct ongoing surveillance testing of about 600 students each week. This testing pool will be weighted more heavily toward those in congregate living (on and off-campus), areas where we have recent positive cases, and areas where wastewater monitoring results indicate we may have unidentified cases,” Schulte said.

She said that through the end of August, the Testing Tent will remain set up between Chem Sci and EERC. “This tent is a temporary site, set up in collaboration with Upper Great Lakes Houghton Family Health Center (UGL), where baseline testing will occur. When we transition to surveillance testing, it will occur at the UGL Testing Center located at the Gates Tennis Center.”

Schulte said the UGL Testing Center will serve community testing needs in addition to the student surveillance testing. 

Schulte said the student baseline and surveillance tests are being processed by the Michigan Tech COVID-19 Testing Lab, which uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. 

“The Testing Lab will be pooling the student samples in groups of five, to allow a greater number of test results to be obtained more quickly. This is incredibly important because the sooner we can identify and isolate positive cases, the better we are at stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

She said that after the tests are pooled, a standard PCR diagnostic test is conducted. If COVID-19 is detected in a sample pool, the five individuals whose samples were pooled will be asked to quarantine while their samples are tested again individually (this generally will take about a day). 

Students whose individual tests do not detect COVID-19 will no longer need to quarantine. Those who have COVID-19 detected in their individual test will isolate and their close contacts will need to quarantine. Schulte acknowledged that this may pose a burden on those who ultimately do not have COVID-19 detected in their individual sample, but it  provides signifantly greater protection to the campus community to impose this short-term inconvenience.

Schulte said the combination of the student testing program and the wastewater monitoring program allows Michigan Tech to take an active role in understanding the presence and transmission of COVID-19 on campus. 

“Without these resources in place, we would be in a defensive posture — forced to simply react to cases as they are identified through symptom-based testing. With these components, we are able to act offensively — minimizing the spread of COVID-19 on campus through early detection and intervention.”

Testing is one part, albeit a crucial part, of the University’s efforts to deal with the pandemic. Schulte said it’s up to individuals to put these plans into action.

“We encourage everybody to learn what you can do to be smart, and do your part, to keep our campus and community safe and healthy.”