By Dana Elger / The University Record
The University of Michigan will begin testing students, faculty and staff next week for the virus that causes COVID-19, ramping up to 3,000 individuals weekly by the end of the month as part of a free, opt-in, voluntary surveillance testing program on the Ann Arbor campus.
Registration for the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking program is open to students living on or off campus as well as faculty and staff, including those from Michigan Medicine, who work in-person on the Ann Arbor campus.
The program is made possible with support from the School of Public Health, Michigan Medicine and University Health Service.
“The community sampling and tracking program will provide U-M public health experts with early warning signs and an opportunity to identify groups in our community in need of targeted support to slow COVID-19 transmission,” said Emily Martin, associate professor of epidemiology in Public Health, who is guiding the development of the program.
“The program monitors levels of COVID-19 in the community to identify increases in undetected transmission among asymptomatic individuals that normally would not be tested for clinical care.”
Testing through this surveillance program will begin Sept. 9 and runs through Nov. 20. Testing will occur 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at Palmer Commons. There is no cost to participants to be tested through this program.
“The introduction of surveillance testing plays a critical role in the public health response to COVID-19 and adds to our understanding of how the virus is impacting our campus community,” said Public Health Dean DuBois Bowman.
“Professor Martin has extensive experience conducting CDC- and NIH-sponsored surveillance testing for influenza and other infectious diseases and we are fortunate to benefit from her expertise.”
The Community Sampling and Tracking program is the latest addition to the university’s multi-tiered testing and monitoring strategy, which includes:
- Baseline testing of nearly 6,000 students before they moved into Michigan Housing, as well as testing of residents of affiliated fraternity or sorority facilities, which began this week and will continue over the next two weeks.
- Symptomatic testing of students through University Health Service and of faculty and staff through Occupational Health Services.
- Exposure testing for close contacts identified though case investigation, contact tracing or workplace exposure investigations.
- Antibody testing for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff involved in patient care.
- Daily symptom tracking through the ResponsiBLUE health screening tool.
In addition, Public Health researchers are studying wastewater samples and taking measurements of air to determine the presence of COVID-19 in the campus environment, and whether that has any relationship on infection rates within the university community.
U-M is targeting a goal to test 5 percent of its student and on-campus population per week, with the ability to test a higher percentage when needed in response to concerns.
“By taking a statistically-driven approach, we are hoping to use our available test capacity to get a more representative estimate of the impacts of COVID-19 on our entire community, including those groups often neglected by convenience-based surveillance systems,” Martin said.
To sign up, individuals will be asked to complete a brief online survey including general questions on living arrangements, frequency of on-campus working, teaching and learning, as well as extracurricular activities. Individuals working from home or taking classes remotely are not encouraged to come to campus for this testing program.
Each week, a sample of approximately 3,000 participants will be selected to create a representative sample of the campus community. Selected participants will be invited to select an appointment time to be tested at Palmer Commons through an observed, self-collected nasal swab.
The tests will be processed by Michigan Medicine and results will be available to participants through the MyUofMHealth online portal. Individuals with a positive test result will be contacted by UHS for follow-up.
“We all have a shared responsibility for reducing the transmission of COVID-19 and preventing outbreaks in the community,” said Preeti Malani, chief health officer. “Wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and now participating in this program are just some of the ways we all can help keep the entire community safer.”
Participants will be asked to show their ResponsiBLUE tracker prior to testing.
Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or those who have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive will not be tested as part of this surveillance program. People who have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 should not enroll.
The program is not a replacement for symptomatic testing or medical care. Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a close-contact exposure should contact Occupational Health Services for faculty and staff, or University Health Service for students.
In addition, here are everyday actions to help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses:
- Wear a face covering on campus.
- Practice social distancing of 6 feet.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid close contact, especially with those who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.