As spring semesters begin on campuses across the nation, leaders are pressed to employ COVID-19 testing strategies and mitigation efforts that will allow learning to proceed, while at the same time preserving the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine seeks to describe various COVID-19 testing strategies and how they apply to colleges and universities with different unique needs and situations.
Based on data from the fall semester, fast and frequent testing can help keep COVID-19 from spreading quickly on campuses and in university communities, but the authors note that testing is only one facet of an effective COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
A comprehensive strategy also requires knowledge of and adherence to scientific findings and principles, isolation and quarantining of those who test positive and those have have potentially been exposed, contact tracing, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, and engaging with the community and local public health officials.
Because the virus is so new, decisions that higher-ed leaders make about their institution’s COVID-19 strategy will vary.
Here are 10 lessons learned about COVID-19 testing strategies to support campuses as they reopen for spring 2021 (and beyond):
1. Testing as one component of a mitigation strategy based on a comprehensive, coherent plan with redundancies. Additional mitigation efforts, including contact tracing, isolation of individuals, and exposure notification should be considered.
2. Strategies chosen to match the needs and circumstances of the particular institution. One size does not fit all, and programs should be tailored to different schools and situations.
3. Engaged leadership at the highest levels, interdisciplinary teams, and coordination across groups. Many universities reported holding consistent, frequent virtual meetings to share best practices and inform planning internally and among the universities.
4. Collaboration with local public health authorities and engagement with partners. Collaboration and partnership can help institutions leverage resources and share best practices.
5. Routine collection and daily analysis of data to guide decision making, including dynamic prioritization of populations and testing frequency. Having a set of predetermined metrics with specific guidelines that inform decision making will allow for more transparent and responsive decision making.
6. Quick response to a positive test–communicating results and supporting isolation of positive individuals and quarantine of close contacts–to prevent further transmission of the virus. Speed is essential when responding to a positive test.
7. Adaptability with flexibility to implement different mitigation strategies as circumstances change. Strategies should adapt as new technology and new information become available–and as outbreaks change.
8. Adoption of an information technology infrastructure that respects data transparency and a privacy while rapidly providing accurate information. A convenient and consistent user interface for test registration, check-in, and delivery of results is important.
9. Communication as an essential piece of the testing strategy. Public-facing dashboards and forums for sharing information can help spread essential knowledge to students, faculty, staff, and the public.
10. Engagement with university and community constituencies, including students, in the development and implementation of the strategy and fostering of a culture of shared responsibility. Participating in COVID-19 response activities could offer opportunities for experiential learning or internships.
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