University to begin weekly surveillance testing for COVID-19

Thursday, September 3, 2020 - 2:19pm

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The University of Michigan will begin voluntary COVID-19 testing next week, with plans to reach a weekly testing goal of approximately 3,000 individuals by the end of September, University President Mark Schlissel said in an email to students Thursday.

All students, faculty and staff can take part in the voluntary surveillance program. The University is looking at transitioning from a nasal swab test to a saliva-based COVID-19 detection test, which has been used at other schools such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The surveillance testing is not a replacement for symptomatic testing, which is also available to all students through the University Health Service, according to the email.

Schlissel said more than 6,000 students living in on-campus housing have been tested for the virus; approximately 5,800 completed their tests prior to arrival. Those who came to campus without a negative test were asked to participate in enhanced social distancing in their residence halls while awaiting results.

The University has approximately 600 beds available on North Campus for students who need isolation or quarantine housing. This housing has been in use since move-in began, but was at 6.2 percent capacity as of Thursday afternoon.

Students living in fraternity and sorority housing will now participate in a separate voluntary testing program that came at the students’ request, Schlissel said. 

“The students expressed interest, and we’re pleased to help implement this additional testing measure in partnership with the same company that did our pre-arrival testing,” Schlissel wrote. “Five hundred tests per week for three weeks are available under this testing effort.” 

UHS Director Rob Ernst and Public Health Professor Emily Toth Martin provided more information and a link to sign up for the program in an email sent later Thursday. Ernst said the program is made possible through a partnership between UHS, Michigan Medicine and the School of Public Health.

“This opt-in program will help us monitor levels of COVID-19 in the community among people who are asymptomatic and do not have other reasons for testing,” Ernst and Martin wrote. “We will use this information to better target interventions throughout the semester and as an early-warning system for possible outbreaks.”

In the email, Schlissel also noted that the Ambassador Program, which has drawn criticism over its partnership with local police, will no longer have sworn officers in patrolling teams. Patrol teams still include unarmed members of the Division of Public Safety and Security.

Schlissel added that the program was created by the Office of Student Life to specifically reduce the need for intervention by law enforcement.

“As always, police may be called to activities that present a safety risk or are in violation of the law, but the idea is for Michigan Ambassadors to first proactively provide outreach in the community to communicate and remind students about public health best practices,” Schlissel wrote.

He also said there were “far fewer large parties and alcohol transports than we would see during a typical welcome week,” thanking students who abided by public health guidelines. Schlissel added that he appreciated that “our fraternities and sororities decided not to host parties in their chapter facilities this fall.”

Schlissel also acknowledged complaints about long waits for food at residence halls, noting that the University is making progress on the issue and finding alternate locations for retrieving meals.

“We’ll sort this out together,” Schlissel wrote.

Daily News Editor Alex Harring can be reached at harring@umich.edu.