OU Expands COVID-19 Testing and Detection Strategies
Mike Seals - September 3, 2020 12:37 am
NORMAN, OKLA. – As part of its ongoing effort to evaluate and slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the University of Oklahoma announced two proactive measures to help intercept asymptomatic infections on the Norman campus.
This week, OU is launching a COVID-19 testing program for residential students, along with regular sampling of wastewater from across campus, including residence halls, to study virus levels – two strategies that will provide an early warning system for positive cases in the most densely populated areas of campus.
“Our required masking and social distancing protocols have made our classrooms among the safest places we can be,” said OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler. “These new strategies being announced today are geared toward slowing the spread of the virus in our congregate housing, where we know the disease can spread quickly. People who have been infected with COVID-19 can be contagious for two to three days before displaying symptoms of the virus. These new measures offer precious time – one of the most valuable and effective tools we have in slowing the spread of the virus on our campus.”
Voluntary Student Testing Program
Starting Sept. 4, students living in OU housing who are not reporting symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to participate in the voluntary testing program. Residential students will receive an email on Sept. 3 with more information and a link to schedule a testing appointment, which will be offered seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. in Cate Center 3. At this time, participation is voluntary and is provided at no cost to students.
Through a collaboration with OU Medicine, OU will offer a self-administered, less invasive anterior nasal swab test that collects specimens from the front of the nose. Students will be notified of their results within 24-48 hours, and students who receive a positive test will be provided guidance on isolation, contact tracing and instructional continuity.
Wastewater Sample Analysis
As an additional measure, OU researchers are lending their expertise to help with early detection of the virus on campus. Researchers have set up several sites to test wastewater samples from the residence halls and other campus facilities, since many people infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their waste before developing symptoms. By analyzing wastewater from geographically separated locations, areas experiencing higher levels of the virus can be identified, and OU can respond appropriately by potentially offering individual testing and additional mitigation efforts for targeted populations. Wastewater samples will be collected and tested daily.
The initiative was launched with seed funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships on the OU Norman campus. The group of scientists conducting the wastewater research includes members of the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology, the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, the Oklahoma Water Survey, Hudson College of Public Health and Community Health Impact at OU Medicine.
Comprehensive Health and Safety Measures
Ongoing public health measures at OU include:
- COVID-19 dashboard: OU launched an online dashboard, available at ou.edu/together/dashboard, to track COVID-19 testing data on the Norman campus – a community of more than 38,300 students, faculty and staff.
- Masking requirement: OU has subscribed to a university-wide masking policy, which applies to faculty, staff, students and campus visitors across all three campuses. Students and employees have been provided various types of face masks appropriate to their on-campus responsibilities.
- Chief COVID Officer: OU appointed Dr. Dale Bratzler, a nationally leading expert in infectious diseases and public health, to advise the university on its planning efforts with regard to the virus.
- COVID-19 testing requirement prior to move-in: OU required all students moving into on-campus housing to be tested for COVID-19 before arriving on campus.
- COVID-19 curbside testing: Any OU student, faculty or staff member may schedule a free COVID-19 test through OU Health Services.
- Social distancing: Classrooms, workspaces and common areas across campus have been configured to promote social distancing.
- Mandatory online health screening: All OU employees and students must complete the online screening form prior to returning to campus or any time certain scenarios apply.
- Enhanced cleaning: Through Clean and Green, OU’s campuses are meticulously cleaned to support the healthiest environment possible. Daily cleaning protocols have been enhanced, with particular emphasis on touch points and common areas.
- Microbe-fighting devices for residence hall towers: Every room in Adams, Couch and Walker Centers are being equipped with a wall-mounted Synexis® Sphere device, which continuously produces Dry Hydrogen Peroxide (DHP™) to reduce viruses, bacteria and fungi in occupied spaces.
- Facility upgrades: Touchless, motion-sensor fixtures have been installed in public restrooms, air filters have been upgraded to hospital-grade standards and more hand sanitizer stations have been installed across campus.
- Classroom and instructional modifications: OU’s goal is to provide in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible while promoting a safe and secure campus environment. To help accomplish this, class times have been extended throughout the day, and larger classes have been moved online.
For the latest information on Norman campus operations, visit ou.edu/together.