October 15th, 2020 | Alla Schay, General Manager, Sterling - Industrials, Government & Education

COVID-19 Testing: A Pathway to Greater Campus Control

A key focus area within education is policies around trust and safety, which holds true for both K-12 schools and higher education. In the pre-pandemic world, this may have been primarily centered around building/campus access as well as receiving clean background screening results for educators and administrative staff. Traditionally, health concerns were limited to up-to-date immunization records and supporting community outreach messaging for prevention, through a seasonal vaccine like a flu shot or maintaining hygiene at both personal and community levels.

In the K-12 setting, administrators and staff are entrusted by parents to keep their children safe. The stakes extend beyond the health and well-being of students, though, since they go back home each day and may regularly interact with relatives who are within a health risk category.

Looking at college campuses, one of the great strengths is the free flow of people and ideas. Students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and locations add to the unique tapestry of each individual institution. Human interaction, whether in a classroom, a lab, or even just the cafeteria adds immeasurably to the collective community experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered everything. How we work, play, and interact with one another has inextricably changed, and many believe that this may hold true for the longer term. Education has been at the forefront of some of these changes, often displaying swift and significant change. The only constant in this state of flux is the laser focus of educators and institutions alike to provide students a safe environment. And yet, the very foundation of what that means has been shaken to its core.

Planning to Open, and Remaining Open

In the past, contingencies for operating schools without being able to access buildings were likely contained to a specific geographic region for a finite amount of time, like after a storm or other natural disasters. A common solution has usually been the adjustment of the calendar to make up lost classroom time. Being unable to open, and keeping open school doors was not previously part of a typical school playbook and was more so an occasional exception rather than a long-term condition. The pervasive and ongoing threat of COVID-19 has required new solutions and operating procedures.

Reopening our schools for the 2020-2021 school year has been a hotly contested debate. Some argue that it isn’t safe. Others say that K-12 children need to go to school so that the parents can work, and college students need to get back to campus. And some would add that while learning can occur via remote technologies, it is most effective in-person through social transactions, conversations, and idea sharing. While these are important topics to debate, we now live in a reality where many schools are reopening with the most critical need being protection of the health and safety of students, faculty, other staff, and the community.

When You’re Expected to be a Health and Disease Expert…

Leaving it up to a professor, teacher, administrator staff member, or student to get a COVID-19 test on their own without providing guidance on where and how to get tested can create anxiety. In some locations, testing that can return rapid results may not be easily available. Even if everyone gets tested, effectively managing the results of those tests at scale can be a logistical nightmare. If a periodic re-test for the population is desired, the whole process starts again. Ultimately, a do-it-yourself approach is fraught with challenges and could become an open-ended administrative burden.

Let’s face it, we are now living in a time where many educators are also expected to be health and disease experts in addition to their “day jobs.”

An approach based on partnering with an expert in the field for a convenient, end-to-end, technology-based testing solution could become a game-changer to address testing challenges. One such solution would be providing at-home or at-school, saliva-based, active virus (PCR) COVID-19 test kits to stakeholders. Look for a partner who can help you with registration, distribution, test facilitation, and shipping solutions — in a comprehensive package that has the flexibility to adapt to your unique needs — such as at-home or at-school, or a combination of both. A simple and proven user experience — for program administrators as well as those being tested — can help relieve anxiety and build trust.

Evolution of Testing

Last spring, when many colleges and school districts shut down their campuses and completed the semester online, testing options were limited. Tests were typically reserved for patients showing symptoms, often when illness was quite severe. Without being able to broadly test a school or campus population and with the rapid spread of the virus, administrators were left with no other option.

As plans for the fall 2020 academic year were formulated, testing availability increased. Instances where the virus spread rapidly became better known and understood, re-enforcing some of the risks associated with close contact in institutional settings. This forced administrators to consider a wide range of scenarios, from fully on-campus to fully online to options in-between.

Active virus (PCR) tests are now widely available and among the most reliable. This is a critical tool when considering precautions that can be taken to help ensure that a campus can remain open and fully functional.

Program Guidelines for Effective COVID-19 Health Testing

Here are eight important considerations as schools focus on COVID-19 health screening:

  1. Can I rely on the test results?

    In these uncertain times, building trust within your community and providing security have gained unprecedented importance. Our current knowledge of the virus clearly indicates the reliability of active virus (PCR) testing stands on solid ground, paving the way for a conducive testing program.

  2. Is administering the test invasive?

    As we know, COVID-19 tests are typically either saliva-based or involve a swab probing the back of the nose or throat. Some may consider the swab method to be invasive, difficult, and perhaps uncomfortable. A saliva test on the other hand involves providing a saliva sample in an easy-to-use test-tube, which is then shipped for analysis in the provided sealed package to a lab. The latter is a preferred option for many.

  3. What about privacy?

    Protecting your test-taker’s privacy is not only important, but also legally required. Your testing partner should provide you a safe and secure mode of sharing testing information and results, including measures to limit the number of stakeholders with access. The standards of privacy you expect from background checks should also be applied to your testing program.

  4. Who is accountable?

    An effective measure to facilitate the correct way of conducting tests is having them observed by an administrator via video conferencing or on-site. Look for a screening partner that gives you the added assurance of access to a trained professional and can provide you with detailed documentation.

  5. What is the timeline I should expect for getting results?

    Due to the uncertainty surrounding the nature of this virus and the need to isolate those infected, the importance of timely results is greater than ever. You should expect a turn-around time for getting your lab results back within 72 hours when you partner with experts in the field.

  6. Can the results be grouped and accessed easily?

    Your testing provider should supplement testing reliability with technology-based solutions, such as an easy-to-understand dashboard that helps you identify the problem areas that need to be addressed quickly. Access to reports that are geared for your ease of understanding and designed for simplicity are key to your program’s effectiveness.

  7. How easy is it to repeat the tests?

    Planning for periodic testing and re-testing will help you protect your population from spreading infection as well as mitigate the threat of uncertainty associated with the virus.

  8. How quickly can tests be provided to higher risk individuals?

    Even with preventative measures in place, the risk of spreading infection persists. A proactive approach and processes that provide high-risk individuals access to tests is essential. Partnering with a reliable testing provider can help you prioritize safety while building trust within and outside your community.

Once you safely open your school’s doors, it is critical to have measures in place to keep them open. Testing that is available to your community may help prevent academic disruption and the need for students and families to scramble to adjust, allowing greater focus on your underlying mission of providing a high-quality education within a safe environment.

An effective, end-to-end solution should be tech-enabled, providing easy access to both aggregate and individual results to help determine any next steps. The challenges of COVID-19 testing have strong overlap with random drug testing programs associated with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirements. Record-keeping of massive quantities of data requires a proven, pressure-tested solution.

Finding a Solution That Works

Education is among the most “human” of businesses, with personal interactions necessary to achieve greatest success. While some of the desired impact can be achieved through a computer screen, teacher-to-student and student-to-student interactions are a key part of the process and experience. Today’s environment disrupts those interactions and exacerbates the situation by adding stress and anxiety about health and safety — which can be alleviated with a reliable, well-run COVID-19 health testing program.

The silver lining is that we now have more knowledge about the virus than we did early on. Yet, me must remain vigilant to assuage the threat, adopt a testing program that responds to your needs and administered by a partner you can trust. In these times of uncertainty, this approach paves a clearer way for organizations and institutions invested in prioritizing safety to regain much-needed control.

Today, teachers, professors, and administrators have been thrust into the role of becoming infectious disease experts, going above and beyond standard duties. An effective, end-to-end, technology-based testing solution can help relieve anxiety, increase safety, and build trust across your school community.

Read more about why Sterling is recognized as a leader in screening services and how our suite of COVID-19 testing services can address your needs. You can also reach out to us with any questions related to our distinctive testing program solution.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.