COVID-19 testing update

GU will no longer be offering walk-in COVID-19 testing for students without symptoms.

As students are adjusting to life back on campus or in the nearby area, knowing the procedures for coronavirus testing are an essential part of staying safe. Unlike in the fall semester, this semester there are not plans to provide walk-in coronavirus testing for students without symptoms.

“Walk-in testing remains an additional option but only if the current testing strategies are not proving sufficient for the mitigation of COVID-19,” said Kristiana Holmes, the director of Health and Counseling Services, via email.

Kent Porterfield, the vice provost of student affairs, said that while there was walk-in testing available last semester, the university is not at the point where walk-in testing would need to be available as an option. However, he will take into account any requests from students and families for walk-in testing, he said. 

According to Eric Baldwin, the assistant vice president of student well-being and healthy living, the main reason walk-in testing is not being offered this semester is because there does not seem to be a need for it, since less than half of students selected for surveillance testing are coming in to get tested. Baldwin also said that the walk-in clinic did not allow for an accurate understanding of how coronavirus might be moving in the community.

“This semester, at least right now, it doesn’t seem like that same level of anxiety is there, that same level of need is there,” Baldwin said of stress about coronavirus among the student population.

However, Baldwin said that students who really want to get tested can reach out to him and ask to be included in the next week of surveillance testing.

For the first three weeks of the semester, 20% of each student population, including students living on-campus, undergraduate students living off campus nearby and law school students have been randomly selected each week for surveillance coronavirus testing, Baldwin said.

“The more students comply with it, the better our snapshot is,” Baldwin said.

Last semester, 10% of the student population was randomly selected each week for surveillance testing, Porterfield said. The number of students randomly selected each week was increased this semester to get enough students to come in for testing to have a statistically significant sample.

“When it draws from a random selection like that, it gives you a pretty true sense of what the positivity rate could be, and if you do the convenience sampling, it’s harder to draw predictive analytics or determinations,” Porterfield said.

The current coronavirus test used for surveillance testing is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is one of the most reliable tests for coronavirus, he said. The university is also preparing to switch over to doing more antigen testing, which will have a quicker turnaround for test results.

Porterfield also said that he understands students get busy and that everyone is fatigued, but it is important to get tested to know how much coronavirus is actually within the student population.

“We’re doing it because it protects our community," Porterfield said. "It’s not fun for any of us, but we don’t want folks walking around as spreaders."

To determine coronavirus levels in the Gonzaga community, surveillance testing will continue throughout the semester, Holmes said. After consulting with Spokane Regional Health District and reviewing testing options from the fall semester, GU has also focused on a variety of other types of testing for this semester.

These types of testing include the surveillance testing, testing groups at a higher risk, such as nursing students, targeted testing for potential outbreaks, athletics testing and testing through Health and Counseling Services. While all other testing is for people who do not have symptoms, testing at Health and Counseling Services is focused on those with coronavirus symptoms, signs or exposures, Holmes said.

Lillian Piel is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lillianpiel.

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