Through the end of the school year, students, faculty and staff at Oregon State University-Cascades can volunteer to be tested for COVID-19.
It's part of the school's Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics program that began Sept. 28. During that first round of testing, 64 faculty, staff and students volunteered. One person, who had no symptoms, tested positive at OSU-Cascades. County health officials were notified, the student self-quarantined and county contact tracers followed up, said Kelly Sparks, OSU-Cascades associate vice president of finance and strategic planning.
Expanding testing especially among young people, who often can test positive for the virus but show no symptoms, is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As the weather turns cooler and more people head indoors, officials are concerned that the current spike in cases will continue.
The information gleaned from these tests helps the university understand the prevalence of the disease in its community and helps officials make decisions about in-person activities on campus, Sparks said.
TRACE is a research effort with Oregon State University-Cascades and OSU faculty researchers in Corvallis and Deschutes County Health Services. It's an extension of the community project that OSU launched in the spring, taking random samples from census tracts in Bend, Hermiston and Corvallis, said co-principal investigator Jeff Bethel, who also is an associate professor of epidemiology at OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
"It's important to know the cross-sectional prevalence to be able to monitor over time," Bethel said. "We are looking at how common the infection is over time. "
Results were not available for this week's testing at OSU-Cascades, Sparks said. The school has about 140 students living in single dorm rooms this semester and on any given day about 150 students on campus taking in-person classes. Students have the option at OSU to take in-person classes, distance learning only or a hybrid, Sparks said.
"Allowing a choice is the best alternative we can give in this environment," Sparks said.
Students, faculty and staff can opt to be tested at OSU-Cascades, at OSU Corvallis and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. There's an OSU page to sign up for the testing, Bethel said.
Since the start of the pandemic, only those exhibiting symptoms, cough, fever and shortness of breath, have been tested for COVID-19.
"The information helps us target decisions to support public health on campus," Sparks said. "We're hoping this will help us identify where we may have issues before it becomes a superspreader event."
The program pays students to assist in the test-taking, which has been a positive experience so far for freshman Erin Hocraffer, an OSU-Cascades biology major. She helps people administer the self-nasal swabs for the rapid tests.
"At school, there's a general awareness of COVID-19," Hocraffer said. "But there's some relaxation when we're eating at the residence hall. Some people forget to wear a mask or to maintain the physical distance.
"There's a steep learning curve. Overall, masks are staying on. Even if there are differing opinions if COVID-19 is a threat or not, people know that there's consequences doled out by the school."
The test is quick and is minimally invasive, Hocraffer said.
"I feel lucky that I can work in my field of study," she said. "I'm on the front line of things."