Dear students and colleagues,
I am writing on behalf of F&M’s Pandemic Operations Response Team (PORT) to provide an update on the test results from the additional COVID-19 surveillance testing conducted earlier this week, and to provide an overview of F&M’s testing strategy.
As a reminder, we are also conducting additional COVID-19 surveillance testing today (Sept. 30) for individuals who live and work in Ware College House. We will share the results from today’s round of testing as soon as they are available.
Bonchek College House and Other COVID-19 Test Results
On Monday, Sept. 28, we conducted additional COVID-19 surveillance testing for residents of and employees who work in Bonchek College House, after the House’s wastewater sample indicated a measurable, albeit low, level of COVID-19. We also tested other students deemed to be at higher risk because of their involvement in groups with members who have tested positive.
Today, we received the following test results:
Two students tested positive (1.21% positive)
A resident of Bonchek
A student who lives in off-campus College-affiliated housing
163 students tested negative (98.79% negative)
One employee who works in Bonchek tested positive
The contact tracing process is now underway, and the students with positive test results are moving into isolation housing.
Overview of F&M’s Testing Strategy
I’d like to take this opportunity to put these results into the context of our overall COVID-19 testing and screening strategy. While I fully understand that any presence of COVID-19 on campus elicits many emotions, and the work of testing is time-consuming and difficult, I would like to make clear that our testing strategy is working exactly the way it was designed to work. It is providing us with timely, appropriate information on the general location of positive cases, which enables us to use our contact tracing and quarantine and isolation protocols appropriately.
Since there are no standard testing procedures for higher education, each college and university must design and implement a testing strategy based on its unique conditions. For example, some colleges are located in more isolated communities, so they rely on the “bubble” effect. Others may use the same testing agency (the Broad Institute) that we use, and yet have a faster turnaround time on test results because their campus is located in New England, near the Broad Institute, and therefore benefit from shorter shipping times. Given the considerable number of variables, the pillars that make up F&M’s testing strategy are necessarily different from those used by other institutions.
We do not mean to suggest that our current testing strategy will not change if we determine that improvements are possible and desirable. With what follows, we mean simply to describe the strategy currently in use. We are continually assessing the process, the results, and possible improvements as we move forward.
The Pillars of F&M’s Testing Strategy
F&M’s current testing strategy is a robust and highly effective plan that was created in consultation with our consultants from Keeling & Associates agency, our Student Wellness Center, and regional health authorities, and informed by state, federal and global agency guidance. The pillars of F&M’s testing strategy are as follows:
Daily self-screening for those living, learning, and working on campus
Daily self-screening involves a daily survey sent via email or text, which requires the respondent to answer a series of questions. Depending on their responses, the individual will either be approved or not approved to be on campus that day.
Mass individual testing using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) nasal swab method conducted by a team of Student Wellness Center staff, employees from across the College who volunteer to help, and subcontracted medical personnel hired by the College
Entry Testing of all students at arrival on campus, with second testing of all students a week after their initial arrival on campus. Students were required to quarantine after their first entry test until they received a negative test result; however, quarantine was not required following the second entry test.
Entry Testing of faculty and professional staff working on campus, in preparation for the start of the term.
Surveillance Testing every two weeks of 20% of the student body, selected randomly. Students tested are not required to quarantine.
Additional Surveillance Testing when there is an indicator that a segment of the student body or faculty/professional staff are at higher-than-normal risk. Note that additional surveillance testing is by its nature not scheduled in advance as it is responsive to data and/or situations at which higher-than-normal risk is present. Students tested in additional, as-needed surveillance are required to enter a modified quarantine.
Wastewater testing at six sites associated with on-campus residences: Bonchek College House (South Ben), Brooks College House (Marshall/Buchanan), New College House, Thomas Hall, Ware College House (North Ben), and Weis College House
As Schnader Hall is being used for quarantine and isolation, we are testing its wastewater as a control to verify the testing method’s ability to detect indicators of the virus’ presence.
- If a wastewater test indicates the presence of the virus, we must determine if additional surveillance testing is necessary and who should participate. To date, we have proceeded with additional surveillance testing for all individuals living and working in the building.
Clinical testing at the Student Wellness Center for individuals with symptoms of COVID-19
Students with symptoms are required to quarantine until they receive a negative test result or as otherwise determined by the Student Wellness Center.
Close contact testing for individuals who are judged to be at risk due to contact with an individual who has tested positive or is being tested for COVID-19 and for whom clinical judgement suggests testing is appropriate
Close Contact Testing, as is the case with Clinical Testing, is based upon clinical judgement by Lancaster General/Penn Medicine staffing at the Student Wellness Center. Students who are identified as close contacts are required to quarantine; whether or not they are tested is a matter of clinical judgment.
We continue to assess possible improvements and changes to our strategy, but the pillars employed to date are serving us well. Having a well-thought-out strategy does not eliminate the possibility of unforeseen situations. Our knowledge of the virus also continues to evolve, as do the resources available for testing.
I send this out in the hope that it will be useful information and add clarity to how the College is approaching this challenging situation. While the circumstances are difficult in many ways, and emotionally taxing for everyone in the F&M community, our testing protocols are working as intended.
Vice President for Strategic Initiatives