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Major Surveillance Testing Plan Launching at SDSU with County

As part of its ongoing COVID-19 mitigation strategy, SDSU is introducing a model to test all students living on campus on an ongoing basis.
By SDSU News Team
 

Every single student living on campus is able — and now required — to get tested under an expanded model San Diego State University is launching in partnership with the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA). 

The COVID-19 Surveillance Testing Plan officially launches on Wednesday, Sept. 16, focusing on undergraduate students living in on campus housing. The plan to test just over 2,400 students within several days will then lead to a surveillance model for ongoing testing with students selected at  random, moving forward. 

“As we have said since early spring when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we must remain vigilant and identify new and different ways to protect ourselves and our communities, especially as we are learning more about the virus and its interactions with our local community context,” said SDSU President Adela de la Torre

“Our global and expert understanding about COVID-19 has significantly improved since our SDSU Flex plan was first approved during the summer, but public health experts everywhere still have significant gaps in knowledge,” de la Torre said. “The global pandemic remains, in many ways, unpredictable. But surveillance testing, given this enhanced capacity and partnership with the County, will introduce a level of predictability. This will help us to become more precise in our interventions all year long to drive down the spread.” 

The Surveillance Testing Plan is part of SDSU’s multi-pronged strategy to mitigate and monitor the spread of COVID-19 within the student population, de la Torre said.  

To date, no faculty or staff have reported a positive COVID-19 test with campus contacts, and no positive cases are linked to any classroom or research activities. The overwhelming majority of SDSU’s positive COVID-19 cases are connected with students living off campus.   

SDSU isolates students who test positive on-campus and quarantines close contacts. In support of those students, the university has adopted a case management approach, assigning a professional team member to serve as a lead contact for every student in isolation and quarantine, and who follows up to check on those students regularly to ensure a comprehensive community of care. 

“We want students to stay connected while they are isolating and quarantining on-campus. These case managers reach out every single day and multiple times each day to ensure that each student is supported in the areas of wellness, academics, and general comfort throughout the duration of their time in isolation and quarantine,” said Kara Bauer, SDSU’s executive director of residential education.

Following the initial phase of benchmark testing for all students in residence beginning this week, the university will then launch random-selection testing for the on-campus housing population. During each round of testing, a set of individuals from each residential community group will be sampled to be re-tested.

Periodic random testing of a representative sample of students — specifically those who are asymptomatic — is a proven method and best practice which will provide critical information as the university assesses changes in the prevalence of COVID-19 within the SDSU community. This type of testing will also help faculty and student health modeling teams to understand where  additional, quick actions may be needed to reduce transmission. 

“Random sampling will allow the university to more precisely indicate where a potential spread may occur within the student population before it actually occurs,” said Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation Hala Madanat. “Having daily, real-time data allows for more localized and targeted interventions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” 

Identifying and isolating asymptomatic cases and geographic areas with potential to lead to greater spread is a method an increasing number of universities across the country are beginning to adopt, focusing on their on-campus student populations.

“Broad on-campus testing is crucial for us to be able to drive down transmission rates. However, it is imperative that everyone take individual responsibility: keep physical distancing at least six feet apart, practice good hygiene including frequent hand washing, and wear a facial covering,” said SDSU epidemiologist Eyal Oren, interim director of the School of Public Health. “These remain the most effective practices we can each take to minimize the chances of passing on or getting COVID-19.” 

While the vast majority of positive COVID-19 cases tied to SDSU are in the off-campus student population, the university has limited jurisdiction over that population, and most have no physical contact with the university. The on-campus population, however, must adhere to specific university student code and housing policies. 

With the required testing beginning on Sept. 16, all students living on campus will today receive a personalized notification to their SDSU email account, indicating where and when their testing will occur. The testing will occur at no cost for students.