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University Launches Asymptomatic COVID-19 Testing Program

The University of Mississippi has launched a program to offer free COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic members of the university community.

The Sentinel Testing Program is designed to provide university officials with a better understanding of the virus’s presence in asymptomatic carriers and how it spreads on campus.

Each week, a random sampling of students, faculty and staff are invited to take a free asymptomatic coronavirus test. The results are usually delivered in under an hour through the Gov2Go app, and will help officials to adjust protocols while identifying asymptomatic carriers who may have otherwise spread the virus through the community.

“It just takes a few individuals to serve as asymptomatic spreaders for this to get out of control,” said Douglas Sullivan-González, chair of the Sentinel Testing Program and dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. “This is an additional step in building the kind of scaffolding that protects the public health of our community.”

The university plans to provide 4,000 tests over the next eight weeks as a part of the Sentinel Testing Program. In the first week, 142 tests were conducted, with only two coming back positive for the virus. 

Sullivan-González said he hopes to see the number of weekly tests performed to rise considerably. So far, 4,000 invitations have been sent, 85% to students, 9% to staff and 6% to faculty. Distribution breakdowns are based on the campus population.

“Based on a random sampling strategy designed by our faculty, staff and students, this testing program will enable us to predict the number of asymptomatic carriers, better understand virus spread and make decisions or adjust protocols in light of that base rate,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, during a video address to the campus 

“We need your help now more than ever to come together as a community to do everything possible to mitigate the spread of the virus and enable us to continue to pursue our important mission. Managing COVID-19 is a shared responsibility. I’m simply asking you to participate and do your part.”

Those selected to participate will receive an email inviting them to complete a short, two-minute survey to determine their eligibility. Anyone invited to test will be directed to make an appointment through the Gov2Go app and then receive a nasal swab test at one of the walk-up or drive-through stations in the Ford Center parking lot. 

Results are usually reported within an hour, and anyone who tests positive will be asked to isolate for 10 days. Students will need to report their positive to Student Health, and if they live in on-campus housing, report to Student Housing or FSL representative. Faculty and staff will need to report to Employee Health and notify their supervisor.

“The real attainable goal is to have no instances of virus on our campus,” Sullivan-González said. “It’s possible to build a public health system where the virus is controlled, but everyone has to be involved and everyone has to do their due diligence.”

By JB Clark

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