Answers about randomized COVID testing leads to more questions

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The BYU Student Health Center is where students and faculty can get tested for COVID-19 on campus. People either come to get tested because they are exhibiting symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has the virus, or they were randomly selected to get tested by BYU. (Addie Blacker)

BYU’s requirement that members of the campus community agree to randomized COVID testing has produced both answers and questions about the process and results.

The overall student experience with randomized testing has been met with positive reactions, but when questioned on the details of the procedure, BYU has kept quiet.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said any student or faculty member who is physically on campus is eligible to be selected for randomized testing.

Students are selected for testing through a randomized process where a sample of individuals are drawn from the campus community. If the individual selected meets the requirements outlined by Jenkins above, then they are sent an email from BYU’s Office of IT with instructions on how to get tested.

Screenshot-of-Email

The actual selection process was not explained except that it is “a random process.”

Communication disorders senior Rebecca Lyman praised BYU for being involved in preventing and containing outbreaks. “This is cool, it’s historic. I think it’s awesome that BYU is being on top of this stuff. They aren’t being passive about it,” she said.

Students are directed in the email to be tested at one of three testing sites: the Richards Building, the BYU Student Health Center or the Risk Management Building. They report to the testing site designated within a timeframe specified by the email. Jenkins said students must be tested at the site specified in the email because BYU is covering all costs for the randomized testing.

Freshman Mia Delli Gatti said she was excited to get tested but felt like it was an inconvenience to her time. She expressed her nervousness of doing a nasal swab and was relieved that her test instead was spitting into a tube. She was tested at Risk Management where they conduct saliva tests. The Richards Building also does saliva tests while the Health Center administers only nasal swabs.

Risk Management and University Communications did not give a reason for different types of testing being assigned to different students.

“I wasn’t happy when I got selected to be tested but overall the process wasn’t bad,” said Isaac Johnson, a sophomore majoring in statistics who was tested at the Health Center.

BYU declined to release the number of students that have been tested so far through this randomized process. BYU also would not say how many students are chosen each week to be tested. The percentage of positive cases from randomized tests is also not being released at this time.

Test results are emailed to the individual within a few days. COVID test results are also available for viewing on the Healthy Together app

Johnson, Gatti and Lyman all received a result of “Not Detected,” or in other words, negative.

Finance junior Allison Long started showing symptoms quickly after her random coronavirus test. The Healthy Together app showed her positive result after about 48 hours. But a week later, longer than the Health Center said it would take, she received an email that said “Good news! Your test result has come back ‘NOT DETECTED.'” She said she still does not know why there was a conflict in test results.

University Communications and Risk Management declined to comment on why Long’s results came back contradictory.

Johnson and Long were both tested at the Health Center yet received their results in drastically different time lengths. Johnson said it took only two hours for him to get his results. Long, however, had to wait over a week to receive the email that had a result contrary to her actual viral status.

Health Center Executive Secretary Juleah Roberts explained that BYU has been ordering new faster coronavirus tests that can give results in two hours. They had a shipment of the new tests but have since run out. According to Roberts, more are on the way. So those who are tested at the Health Center have a possibility of the faster, less intrusive nasal swab test being given to them. If a student is sent to a different testing site on campus or the Health Center is out of the fast tests, however, they will have to wait the usual two to three days for their results.

Roberts showed excitement for the faster tests. “We love being able to give the results out faster.”

Randomized testing is part of BYU’s testing plan to help maintain and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks for Fall Semester. This plan had four main categories for testing: testing of symptomatic individuals, testing of those who have been in direct close contact with a known COVID-19 case, risk-based evaluation and testing, and randomized testing across the BYU campus community.

Before fall semester started, all students and faculty were required to complete a back-to-school training where they agreed to participate in the randomized testing if requested by BYU.

If a student or faculty member does not comply with the request for testing, individual follow-up by BYU administration will occur. Jenkins said on-campus privileges may also be restricted if they refuse to get tested.

When tested at the Student Health Center, the student is encouraged to set up an appointment in advance. The individual drives up in their car and has a nasal swab inserted about an inch into the nose. People may also walk to the Health Center to be helped.

When being tested at the Richards Building or Risk Management, students are given time slots where they can walk into the testing site to get their saliva test conducted. The individual must spit into a tube, fill it to a designated line and mix a liquid into it before giving the tube back to the nurse helping them.

Risk Management turned down answering any questions about the randomized procedure, instead referring all questions to University Communications.

“Because of the potential for asymptomatic cases, randomized testing helps us better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 within our community,” Jenkins said.

BYU has more information on its COVID-19 updates webpage.

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