BYU Student Health Center maxing out daily COVID testing slots

Students line up on foot and by car for COVID-19 testing at the BYU Student Health Center on Sept. 17. (Preston Crawley)

The BYU Student Health Center has been offering COVID-19 tests since the spring. Both demand and positive test rates have shot up since Fall Semester started.

“We’re filling up completely every day,” said Keith Willmore, the center’s medical director. The staff went from offering 100-120 tests a week over the summer to 1,000-1,100 per week during Fall Semester.

The health center has a little over 200 testing slots Monday through Friday and 90 on Saturday mornings. Willmore said individuals are only likely to get a same-day appointment if they call first thing in the morning.

If an individual calls to make an appointment after all the slots have been filled for the day, they have two options: pick an available slot for another day or go to another testing location.

However, the student health center may be the only realistic option for students without a car or bike. The next closest testing locations are Blue Rock Medical Center and Urgent Care and a TestUtah site at Provo Towne Centre Mall, which are a 35- and a 54-minute walk, respectively, from Helaman Halls.

The positive test rate has also increased as campus reopened, specifically from 10% to 20-25%. But Willmore stressed that the positive test rate only applies to those being tested — most of whom are more likely to have it due to exposure — and not the general campus community.

“It’s hard to know whether it’s OK or not. I mean we’ve not dealt with this before and that’s why there’s so much question, even nationally, as to what the response should be,” Willmore said. “Bottom line is we’re watching it really closely.”

Who tests positive is predictable

According to Willmore, the health center is seeing a clear pattern in who tests positive for COVID.

“By far the majority of the positives that we are seeing are people that have a roommate that’s sick and then they get sick,” Wilmore said. “It’s very uncommon for me to see somebody that’s developed symptoms and they don’t have any known exposure and then they get a positive. We are seeing that a little bit, but not very much.”

Same-day results coming this week

Currently, students will receive their test results after 24-48 hours and usually closer to 24 hours if the results are positive, according to Willmore. This includes test administered on Fridays and Saturdays.

Starting the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 18, however, the center will offer a new test with same-day results. This is because the center will be able to do the lab testing at its location rather than its current practice of sending tests to a lab in Phoenix.

Willmore said the health center has been fighting to get the test for months and will be one of the only places in the state to have it. “We’re really excited.”

A less painful test

The new test is still a nose swab test, but Willmore said students don’t need to brace themselves for the horror stories they’ve heard about painful tests. For the past few weeks, the center has been administering a less painful test, instead. He said students who were tested earlier in the year and have recently needed another test also say the newer version is better.

“It’s almost more of a tickle. It doesn’t hurt,” Willmore said. “It’s much better tolerated.”

The cost of testing

Testing is free for students in virtually every situation. If BYU is requiring someone to be tested as part of asymptotic screening, the university will pay for it. If someone is exposed or has symptoms, their insurance will pay for a test without a copay. Only students without insurance would have to pay for a test.

Students scheduling an appointment to be tested must provide proof of insurance, including a photo of their insurance card, which they can email to the health center following their testing appointment.

Individuals being tested are also provided with a paper they can present to their employees if asked for proof of their need to quarantine.

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