COVID-19 testing on Ohio University's campus

Right: Tiffin Hall was one of the residence halls on Ohio University’s main campus to be vacated last week due to cases of COVID-19. Photo by Ben Peters.

Ohio University has revamped much of its COVID-19 testing apparatus for the upcoming spring semester where more students are expected to live on-campus than in the fall.

In partnership with Vault Health, which manufactures a highly accurate saliva-based COVID-19 test, OU will operate a new asymptomatic testing program out of the Tennis Center located on South Green near Ping Recreation Center where it will be able to process 1,000 tests per day — significantly more than what was processed each day in the fall.

All students returning to campus at the end of January are also required to complete an at-home test provided by Vault Health. Testing kits will be mailed to students’ home address with a pre-paid overnight return form so it can be sent back accordingly. Students can expect test results up to 48 hours later.

The university will continue its partnership with CVS Health through the spring for wide-net testing to detect possible outbreaks in residence halls before they get out of hand, according to Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations.

In an additional effort to discover residence hall outbreaks early, OU is planning to utilize wastewater surveillance testing, This testing can detect the virus in sewage before people become symptomatic and can pinpoint where there may be hot spots.

According to Ice, the wastewater testing is part of a grant project administered by the Ohio Water Resources Center and was awarded to Guy Riefler, the civil engineering chair and professor, and Karen Coschigano, a biomedical science associate professor.

All first and second-year students were given the option to live on-campus for spring semester, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 19, a week later than previously scheduled to allow additional time for students to move in and quarantine once they arrive to town. Students will begin moving into dorms Jan. 13.

The university expects more than 3,300 students to live on-campus in the spring, more than double the number in the fall. Although that count will likely fluctuate by the time classes actually start, university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in an email.

Leatherwood indicated it still remains entirely possible for the university to change plans for the spring given the dire state of the pandemic nationwide.

“With the high level of disease in our state and nation, our public health and student life leaders will be working closely with our local and state public health officials and communicating with other public universities in the state throughout the winter break to monitor state and national trends, which have been disturbing,” she said.

“Should the public health situation in the state necessitate any changes to our University schedule, course delivery plans, or on-campus protocols, we will notify our University community immediately.”

Prior to fall semester, OU originally planned on allowing all students to return to campus, only to reverse course weeks before classes began by permitting select groups back after it became clear the circumstances of the pandemic had worsened since the university’s plans were crystalized earlier in the summer.

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