A message from President Tim Sands: Implementing mandatory random prevalence testing
I’d like to thank our faculty, staff, students and community members for adhering to the science-based public health practices that are known to limit the spread of COVID-19. After an initial surge in positive cases following the move-in period, all indications are that the rate of new infections has subsided at Virginia Tech and in Montgomery County. This is not a time to let our attention wane. There is much more work to be done to suppress the spread of COVID-19 so that we can incrementally advance toward a more normal semester. The visit of Dr. Birx earlier this week gave us confidence that we are on the right track, but also revealed some opportunities to get better. In particular, she praised our testing strategy, and supported our move forward on increased testing and wastewater research.
Starting Monday, Sept. 21, the university will increase student testing with 2000 open testing appointments each week. A portion of this additional testing will be dedicated to mandatory random prevalence testing for all undergraduate students in Blacksburg. Mandatory random prevalence testing will allow monitoring of the status of COVID-19 on campus and in Blacksburg with a statistically significant sample of the entire undergraduate population. Students selected for a given week will be notified beginning on the prior Wednesday and provided instructions for making an appointment to be tested during the coming week. Please understand that the program will not serve the intended purpose unless it is mandatory. We appreciate your cooperation.
Mandatory random prevalence testing is just one tool that we are employing to monitor and manage COVID-19 on our Blacksburg campus. We continue to perform diagnostic testing of students for those with symptoms and those who have been identified by contact tracing. In addition, we are regularly testing employees, including undergraduate and graduate student employees, who fall into higher contact categories as determined by the degree of contact with others in the course of their jobs on campus. When we anticipate excess capacity, we will announce testing sessions for any student or employee who wishes to be tested.
Wastewater sentinel surveillance is also underway, and we plan to add additional prevalence testing programs for employees in the near future. Testing programs for sites outside of Blacksburg will be tailored to the specific characteristics of those sites. We continue to support the testing needs of western Virginia by using much of our analysis capacity at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC to support the local health districts. That capacity will roughly double next week with the implementation of pooled testing, a mode that was recently approved by the FDA through an emergency use authorization. The expanded capacity will allow us to ramp up testing for Virginia Tech while continuing to support our local health districts. Please follow updates sent each day through the Virginia Tech Daily Email and on the Virginia Tech Ready site.
In closing, let me reiterate my thanks to those of you who have been adhering to the public health measures that are established to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the disease that it causes. The simple truth is that if we all wear face coverings and maintain physical distance when around those not in our “pod,” we can stop the spread in a matter of weeks. And as our own Professor Linsey Marr has explained so clearly, avoiding crowds and interior spaces with stagnant air will further protect you and others from acquiring or unknowingly spreading COVID-19.
Be committed. Be well.