Northeast governors urge coronavirus testing at colleges before break

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • The governors of several Northeast states are urging colleges to test students who live on campus for the coronavirus before they leave for Thanksgiving break.
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted the announcement Wednesday afternoon. It included the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
  • Public health experts advise testing students before break as a way to stem the virus’s spread, but not all colleges are requiring it.

Dive Insight:

Relatively few schools have announced plans to test students for the virus before they head home for the holiday break, the College Crisis Initiative, which is tracking institutions’ responses to the pandemic, pointed out last week.

Of colleges that are, not all are requiring students to get tested. Purdue University, whose president was a vocal advocate for reopening campuses this fall, said coronavirus testing is available to students “if desired.” Similarly, The Texas Tribune found that few universities in that state are mandating exit testing. 

Yet public health experts say testing should be part of colleges’ plans to wind down the term, helping to keep the virus from spreading. Nationwide, cases are climbing, and research has tied infections on campus to the transmission.

All on-campus students in the State University of New York system must test negative for the virus before they can go home for break. Notre Dame University, in Indiana, is also requiring all students to get tested before going home. The university tightened this requirement after students rushed the field to celebrate a football victory earlier this month.

But testing can be costly. North Carolina is sending tens of thousands of coronavirus tests to public and private colleges across the state to help them cover more students.

Exit testing is part of a bigger strategy that includes quarantines, social distancing, mask-wearing and education about how students can safely reintegrate with their families once home, public health experts say. 

The American College Health Association advises institutions with fewer resources to “consider options to mitigate harm to others” while weighing the limitations of their campus. 

While initial guidance on the need for testing on campus was murky, newer information adds clarity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October reversed its stance on the need for testing, saying that testing people upon entering campus and then regularly after that could reduce virus transmission. 

This week, the CDC added that pooled testing can help colleges test more students efficiently. In this method, several samples are tested together and each test is analyzed individually only if the batch tests positive.

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