Penn State opens on-campus coronavirus testing center

Graduate Nick Pelino poses for a selfie with Taja Finley, left, and Marissa Bufalini after Penn State Beaver's commencement on May 3, 2019. (Cathy Benscoter)

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To better mitigate and monitor the spread of COVID-19, Pennsylvania State University on Monday opened a new testing lab that will be used for random, daily COVID-19 testing of its students on campus.

The Penn State Testing and Surveillance Center, or TASC, will test students who have been selected at random to help the university identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus, according to the university.

Surveillance testing of students, which the university began doing last month, was initially conducted via a combination of diagnostic tests from the university’s testing vendors, including Vault Health. But the new testing lab on campus will allow Penn State to process student COVID-19 tests in-house.

The lab will randomly select students in groups of five to be tested so the university can collect data to assess what percentage of students may be infectious and to identify community trends in how COVID-19 is spreading, said Suresh Kuchipudi, a clinical professor and associate director of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Penn State.

“Surveillance testing of individuals without COVID-19 symptoms allows the University to monitor positive asymptomatic cases and determine the need for additional mitigation steps,” Kuchipudi said in a press release.

Selected students will be contacted by email and text message to answer COVID-19 screening questions and are required to schedule an appointment to be tested for the virus. Once tests are validated the results are to be included on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The university says testing will be done daily and include at least 1% of the student, faculty and staff population.

Other universities, including Ohio State University, Vanderbilt University and the State University of New York at Buffalo have also launched COVID-19 surveillance testing programs to gain better insights into how COVID-19 is affecting students, staff and faculty on campus and identify asymptomatic cases for isolation.

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