The University of Vermont today announced a Coronavirus testing protocol that is believed to be among the most extensive among higher education institutions across the country.
The protocol will begin at least five days prior to the date a student is planning to initiate travel to Burlington, and no later than Aug. 26 if the student is already in town. Students will then be tested upon arrival if moving into a residence hall, or on the first day of classes if they are living off campus. Students will be tested again after seven days, then weekly through Sept. 18. Testing frequency for the remainder of the semester will be determined based on public health and medical analysis of the initial testing.
“It is well understood that testing students is key to identifying and overcoming outbreaks of COVID-19,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella. “The question becomes how much testing is optimal. For that perspective we worked closely with the epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists in the university’s medical school and teaching hospital and with the state’s public health experts. The protocol that emerged from this intense collaboration is as strong as any in the country.”
The pre-arrival test will be conducted as part of an agreement with Vault Health, which offers a saliva test kit that will be shipped to students’ homes. Students will self-administer the test, guided by a Vault specialist through a Zoom online telehealth visit. All undergraduate, graduate, non-degree and medical students who will be living or taking classes on campus this fall will be required to complete the pre-arrival testing process. It also applies to students who have been living in Burlington for all or part of the summer.
“Pre-arrival testing will enhance our evolving, comprehensive health and safety plan, and will support our efforts to prevent the introduction or spread of the virus on our campus and in our local community,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia Prelock.
Students will be notified of test results between 24 and 72 hours. Those who test positive will have to remain in isolation at home for 10 days and have a new campus arrival date assigned to them. Pre-arrival testing does not supplant established quarantine requirements. All Vermont Department of Health quarantine requirements and restrictions apply either prior to arrival or upon arrival to campus and Greater Burlington locations regardless of pre-arrival test results. The university has developed an online, step-by-step tool to help students and families determine quarantine requirements based on their individual circumstances.
On-campus testing throughout the semester will be accomplished as part of an agreement UVM is finalizing with the Broad Institute, a collaboration of physicians, biomedical researchers, data scientists and software engineers from MIT, Harvard and Harvard-affiliated hospitals to address human health challenges.
Broad will supply the test kits, the university will conduct the testing and ship the samples to Broad for analysis. Broad will process the tests and return results within approximately 24 hours of receiving the samples.
UVM employees who are working on site will also have access to the testing, which will be provided to them free of charge.
Both Vault and Broad use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method of testing for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. This is the test method that the Vermont Department of Health relies on for its statewide testing program. All tests will be available to students free of charge. Serious consequences will be imposed for students who fail to adhere to the testing protocol, including loss of CATcard campus access privileges.
UVM’s extensive Coronavirus testing protocol is only one component of a comprehensive strategy that includes mask-wearing requirements, density and distancing measures, the provision of supportive isolation, multiple instruction modalities, curtailing outside visitors to campus, an embargo on events attracting large crowds, requiring students to keep a journal to facilitate contract tracing, travel restrictions, and asking that all students and employees complete a daily health screening survey prior to engaging in campus activities to verify individuals are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“I am confident that these strategies will enable UVM to offer a high-quality education in a safe and productive work setting for faculty and staff,” said Garimella. “All of our decisions are informed by advice from medical and public health experts, and meet, and in many cases exceed, state and federal regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of members of the campus and surrounding communities.”