Utah colleges begin mandatory COVID-19 testing

A BYU student is tested for COVID-19 at the BYU Student Health Center. BYU and other Utah colleges are beginning required COVID-19 testing in compliance with Gov. Gary Herbert’s mandate. (Hannah Miner)

Utah colleges are complying with a state mandate released Nov. 8 requiring weekly COVID-19 testing for university students.

BYU has placed in-person extracurricular activities on hold in response to the mandate. Plans are still under discussion for implementing required testing Winter Semester, according to Becky Sanderson with University Communications.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s mandate includes a ban on casual social gatherings, postponing most extracurricular activities and mandatory student testing beginning no later than Jan. 1, 2021.

Herbert cited state data showing individuals ages 15-24 have not been careful enough with casual social gatherings and have the highest rate of spreading COVID-19. Some universities have implemented mandatory testing immediately while others are still developing a plan.

BYU released a statement on Nov. 9 confirming their compliance with Herbert’s order. 

“Since the beginning of Fall Semester, BYU has implemented a robust plan for testing,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. “We believe that testing is an important component to successfully preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19.” 

Current required testing for the BYU community involves those who are symptomatic or have been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. Risk-based and randomized tests are also being carried out.

Utah Valley University is not yet requiring mandatory testing but has made free tests available to students and community members through Nov. 18. UVU President Astrid S. Tuminez encouraged students in a Nov. 9 letter to sign up for an appointment involving “an anterior nasal swab that is less invasive” than other COVID-19 tests.

Tuminez also expressed compliance with the Jan. 1 deadline for requiring weekly testing.

The University of Utah was quick to respond to Herbert’s order in the hopes of protecting students’ families when they travel home for Thanksgiving. Utes have been asked to sign up for testing between Nov. 11-23. 

“We are concerned about the possibility that students may be asymptomatic and unintentionally expose their families to coronavirus as they return home,” U of U Communications said in a Nov. 11 statement. “By quickly identifying those who have coronavirus we will be in a better position to help stop its spread in our community and to protect people who are at risk.”

Part of the U.’s preparation stems from their plan prior to the governor’s order to test students living on-campus or taking in-person classes before Thanksgiving and winter break. Their plan has now extended to all U of U students. U of U will use rapid testing BinaxNOW tests from the Utah Department of Health.

Utah State University has followed suit and is running mandatory testing for students Nov. 11-18. 

“It is essential for us to follow the governor’s order,” USU President Noelle Cockett said in a Nov. 9 message. “We are concerned as we look at students heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and these actions are an effort to protect our students themselves, but also their family members and our own Aggie family.” 

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