Coronavirus: Frequent testing at California colleges is critical, but many campuses aren’t close to meeting the standard

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The infectious disease specialist in Seattle and the public health expert in Connecticut agree: The key to college campuses returning to normal activity before there’s a widely-available COVID-19 vaccine is absolutely, unequivocally a four-letter word.

Test the students. Test the faculty. Test the staff.

Then test ‘em all again, a few days later.

“And if twice-a-week doesn’t cut it,” said Carl Bergstrom, a professor at the University of Washington, “then you have to be prepared to change the cadence. Test everybody, every day.”

From Chico to San Diego — at public schools and private schools, semester schools and quarter schools, urban campuses and rural campuses — the state of coronavirus planning in higher education in California this fall is a scattered, confusing, infuriating mess.

And absent a vaccine, experts agree, there is just one way out: Cheap, quick, plentiful tests would allow universities to reclaim their pre-coronavirus lives, with full dormitories, crowded dining halls and free-spending students.

Mitigation strategies such as masks and social distancing will help, Bergstrom said, but they won’t prevent outbreaks.

Nor will testing once a week, according to a study published on the Journal of the American Medical Association’s open network.

Yale School of Medicine public health expert David Paltiel ran computer simulations of a college campus and determined that “screening every two days” would give universities a fighting chance.

But schools in California aren’t close to meeting that standard.

Chico State didn’t require COVID-19 tests prior to returning to campus. One week into the semester, with case counts rising, the school told students to scram.

San Diego State experienced a similar, rapid rise in case counts but — crucially — so far has found space for hundreds of students needing to be quarantined or isolated.

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Stanford never got its fall quarter started, at least in semi-normal fashion. After planning to welcome half of its undergraduate students onto campus, the university reversed course and told them to stay away.

But no return-to-campus situation is more bizarre than the one unfolding at Cal Poly, where hundreds of faculty members, alarmed at the absence of a testing requirement prior to the fall quarter, published an open letter to students on social media:

“We are writing to alert you to the significant health and safety risks posed by Cal Poly’s current campus reopening plan. We appeal to you to consider these factors as you make your decision whether to return in person for fall quarter.”

A week later, the university announced a revision, requiring COVID-19 tests for the thousands of students planning to live on campus. Additional tests are only necessary for those showing symptoms of illness (or close contacts of those infected).

“I’m worried about the lack of surveillance testing — that’s my biggest concern,’’ said Cal Poly biological sciences professor Candace Winstead, an author of the faculty letter and member of the San Luis Obispo health commission.

“I want it to work. I want to be back in the classroom. But I want them to start testing yesterday,” she said.

The outbreaks and …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

      

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