SIUE secures plans for saliva test, contact tracing and mandatory tests to start the spring semester

The Madison County Health Department and Illinois Department of Public Health offer free COVID-19 testing to the public at SIUE on Saturday, Nov. 14. Participants are given a nasal swab and test tube, along with instructions on how to complete the tests themselves.

When returning to campus for the spring semester, SIUE students will be required to test negative for COVID-19, as the university expands its testing capabilities and switches to a saliva-based test.

Though SIUE planned to use University of Illinois’ SHIELD test system, it did not get FDA approval quickly enough. Instead, the university will be using a different saliva-based test from GENETWORx, a laboratory based in Virginia.  

Michael Schultz, SIUE’s COVID-19 Coordinator, said the saliva-based test maintains the reliability seen in testing this semester and is less intimidating. 

“In reviewing the data, we found that saliva testing did have an excellent sensitivity rate, and we felt that that would meet our needs without being intrusive,” Schultz said.

Some were hoping for full mandatory testing next semester, citing the possibility of an undetected outbreak without it. Instead, the school is planning a mix of mandatory and voluntary testing. 

Students in on-campus housing will be required to submit negative test results before entering their living space, and all other on-ground students or faculty members will be required to submit a negative test in the 48-hour period before they return.  

Schultz said this is in accordance with CDC guidelines, which instruct individuals to get tested when they switch bubbles of who they are around.

Chancellor Randy Pembrook said these pre-tests will help make everyone on campus feel secure. 

“Hopefully [pre-tests] will give people confidence that everyone in the on-ground population has been tested at least once,” Pembrook said. 

During the semester, around 500 students will be invited to get tested each week, though they won’t be required to. Schultz said they will be offering incentives to students who come in, such as providing an amount of Cougar Bucks or entering them into a drawing for a parking hang tag. 

Pembrook said the higher level of testing all comes down to statistics. 

“The larger your sample is, the more you can approximate the characteristics of the overall population. So, by having more people test in a convenient, easy way — saliva — we hope that we’ll have good handle on the health of the overall population of people on campus,” Pembrook said. 

According to Schultz, the hiring of four contact tracers has been approved, and there are also plans to hire interns directly from the Department of Public Health.  

The new testing plan was approved during a Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 3, in which the deal was announced to be around $1.5 million. 

Sophomore mass communications major Jared Speer, of Troy, Illinois, said he was happy saliva testing will be available. 

“I think the saliva testing will be beneficial in helping keep campus safe … I have friends that go to [University of Illinois], and they have told me they feel safer on campus,” Speer said. 

Other students offered proposals to improve the testing plan. Junior chemistry major Abbigayle Hedrick, of Murphysboro, Illinois, said she thinks more at-risk students should be tested more often. 

“The saliva test, I think, is a good idea. It sounds a lot more comfortable than a nasal swab,” Hedrick said. “As for the invites, I think there should be a hierarchy of people that need to be tested more regularly rather than just random invites, like student workers or students in athletics.”

Students can learn more about COVID 19 testing and the new testing option on SIUE’s website.

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