By: Kate Luce
Students can expect an increase in mitigation testing this semester. This was announced to students before the start of the spring semester through email.
So far, students can expect to be tested at least once a week. However, student-athletes and housing residents are part of the group that might be tested even more often. Students that are learning fully-remotely can apply for an exemption by filling out the form.
In addition, voluntary asymptomatic testing will be available during this semester. This optional, free test is available for students, staff and faculty are for those that do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, have not been selected for required mitigation testing during the week, have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and are not currently in quarantine with someone who has COVID-19.
“It is offered in the same location as mitigation testing. Testing slots open up at 2 p.m. the Friday before the week of testing and you can register here. It’s essentially the same as mitigation testing – only optional if you don’t get selected in a given week and meet the conditions above. Spaces are limited right now to the first 50 who sign up each week,” Elizabeth Paice, chief of staff, said.
Regional campuses are expected to make the switch to Vault Health to IU Health’s mitigation testing and a third-party for lab analysis and results.
“New IU Pandemic Response Laboratories, in Bloomington and at the IU School of Medicine on the IUPUI campus, will eventually run the tests and provide this analysis. Moving to IU labs will have cost efficiencies, allow us to expand testing, and quicker turnaround times,” Tiffany German-Hall, environmental health, and safety specialist and emergency management and continuity specialist, said.
Even with this switch, testing is expected to stay the same.
“Even with the eventual move to IU labs, mitigation testing will largely stay the same. Emails will still be sent to those selected in each week’s testing group and results will still be sent via email. The new test will still be saliva based. Students who are learning in a fully remote mode all semester may continue to be exempt from mitigation testing by filling out an exemption form,” German-Hall said.
At the time, Vault Health was the best option for IU South Bend and many IU regional campuses, according to Debbi Fletcher, assistant university director, and emergency management and continuity. With the switch, IU South Bend is using up all of the Vault Health testing kits they have before they make the switch to IU South Bend.
According to the Vault Health website, their saliva tests are 98% accurate and improvements have made testing a smooth process.
“Both the volunteers assisting with testing and those coming in to test became more comfortable with the process as we moved through the fall semester. People are now able to fill their vials quickly, so they are spending less time testing,” Maureen Muldoon, special events coordinator, said.
“Mitigation testing in the fall has been important for keeping cases low on campus communities and helping the campus community keep healthy and safe. As the semester has progressed students seem to be more familiar with the testing process, making it a bit easier for them to get in and out quickly. We’ve also tried to make the testing process a little bit of a more enjoyable experience by adding music,” Paice said.
With new variants of COVID-19 spreading across the nation and currently in Indiana, the new COVID-19 tests are expected to also include the variants.
“The university is staying on top of the issues related to the variants. The COVID vaccines on the market right now should provide protection against the variants as well as the current COVID-19 virus,” Fletcher said.
Students have been encouraged to get tested on-campus because results can come back quicker. It saves an extra step in reporting the results to IU South Bend. Students who received a positive COVID-19 test off-campus must report it using the COVID-19 Self-Report Form. Students who have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 must also report using the same form.
In addition, students, staff and faculty are required to receive a flu vaccine or request exemption if they have not done so already. The Health and Wellness Center is still offering flu vaccines for free. Call 574-520-4343 to make an appointment for a vaccine.
IU South Bend will communicate to students, staff and faculty when they are eligible for the vaccine.
“The vaccine is another tool we have in our arsenal to stop the pandemic. Vaccines help your body respond quickly to prevent viral infection if you are exposed. Continuing to follow existing CDC guidelines will help prevent you from being exposed to COVID-19, becoming infected, and infecting others – including those who are at high risk for severe illness. You will need both strategies to ensure effective protection against COVID-19. Those vaccinated will need to continue to use masks, practice physical distancing, wash their hands, and engage in mitigation testing until we have more scientific information about the impacts of immunity conferred by the vaccine on individuals and our communities,” Paice said.
While COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the area. Staff encourages everyone to wash their hands, wear a mask correctly, socially distance and stay home if they aren’t feeling well. Weekly updates on COVID-19 cases at IU South Bend will be updated each Wednesday.