PORT Announcements announce-port@fandm.edu

Wed, Oct 7, 5:50 PM

Dear students and colleagues,

On behalf of F&M’s Pandemic Operations Response Team (PORT), I am writing to share with you a revised plan for COVID-19 testing during Module 2. The members of PORT developed this new strategy in accordance with changes in testing research and resources, community feedback, and in partnership with senior staff and our consultants from Keeling & Associates.

The essence of this change is as follows:

  • We will continue wastewater testing, but with a more nuanced strategy regarding the use of the results. A positive finding will not necessarily lead to additional testing and quarantine, although in some situations it may do so. This change in procedure follows from what we have learned regarding the usefulness of this methodology over the past several weeks.
  • We will replace our previous surveillance testing strategy (20% of the student body randomly chosen every two weeks for individual testing) to a structure of modified universal testing in which each student is tested twice during the six-week in-residence portion of Module 2, meaning that each student is tested once every three weeks.
  • We will conduct additional surveillance testing as prompted by specific circumstances, such as a significant viral load in a wastewater result unassociated with previous positive tests, an increase in the number of symptomatic students, or an unforeseen scenario.

Module 2 begins on Monday, October 12. For modified universal testing, we will divide the student body into three groups – A, B, and C:

  • Group A will test during week 1 (Oct. 12 and 13) and week 4 (Nov. 2 and 3)
  • Group B will test during week 2 (Oct. 19 and 20) and week 5 (Nov. 9 and 10)
  • Group C will test during week 3 (Oct. 26 and 27) and week 6 (Nov. 16 and 17) 

Each week, we will test approximately 500 students, roughly half on Monday and half on Tuesday. We will also have approximately 50 slots on Mondays and on Tuesdays for employees; HR will schedule FPS members who are working on campus for testing. 

I will communicate soon regarding sign-up procedures for group A and testing on Oct. 12 and 13.

A more detailed explanation of this change in protocols is presented in the Expanded Discussion at the end of this email. My colleagues and I, advised by our medical consultants, believe that this process, which offers expanded individual testing, will assure more predictability and will lead to the need for fewer unexpected quarantines and sudden testing. We recognize the disruption and stress caused by such unexpected occurrences, and we believe that the new procedure is a preferable plan.

My colleagues and I are grateful for everything students and employees are doing to keep our campus safe and to allow us to persist through this most unusual semester. This new protocol will enhance the likelihood that we will be able to continue to offer a safe residential environment that is conducive to learning and success.

Best wishes,

Alan Caniglia

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives

Expanded Discussion

Our testing strategy for Module 1 was detailed in a communication I sent, on behalf of PORT, on Sept. 30. You can find that communication here: https://www.fandm.edu/messages-bucket/messages-to-the-community-about-covid-19/port-results-from-sept-28-testing-and-f-m-s-testing-strategy

In Module 2, we will revise our COVID-19 testing strategy in a concerted effort to do the following:

  • increase the effectiveness of our overall testing regimen
  • lessen the disruption and stress associated with sudden quarantines and unexpected required tests

The new testing strategy is characterized by two key revisions:

  • using a more nuanced approach in our response to wastewater testing results
  • transitioning from random surveillance testing to a modified form of universal testing

This revision is based on our experience at F&M during the first half of the fall term, as well as on advice from consultants with significant expertise in this area. It involves an increase in the number of scheduled individual tests along with, we predict, a reduction in the number of unexpected quarantines and tests.

Approach to Wastewater Testing

In Module 1, we tested the wastewater of the residence halls weekly and received five positive findings during that time. We responded to evidence of the virus in the wastewater, in most cases, by requiring students living in the House to quarantine and be tested, regardless of the viral load, along with employees working in that House.

Using this process, we identified two COVID-19 positive individuals who might not otherwise have been identified. While it is good news that this number was small, it raises questions as to whether our use of the wastewater results was optimal.

Wastewater testing is experimental, and the link between a positive result and individual positives is not fully understood in practice. We attribute the variability in the wastewater method’s effectiveness as a sentinel for the presence of infections to the following: 

  • in some cases, positive individuals were already known
  • previously positive but no longer contagious individuals may have returned to the residence but still had residual virus in their systems
  • non-residents have access to some spaces in the Houses
  • the positive wastewater tests have typically been associated with levels of the virus that were very small

In Module 2, we will do the following:

  • continue to test the wastewater on a weekly basis with a new timeframe that will return results earlier in the week
  • use a more nuanced approach for interpreting positive wastewater results, taking into consideration the viral load and how it has changed over time
  • consider what we already know about infected persons who have been in the building and any other information pertinent to the wastewater finding

Advised by our medical consultants, we will then determine the necessary course of action. A positive wastewater result may or may not lead to additional surveillance testing and/or modified quarantine for those living and working in the building.

Transition to Modified Universal Testing

In Module 1, we conducted:

  • two rounds of universal entry testing for students upon their arrival on campus
  • random surveillance testing for approximately 20% of students every two weeks
  • additional surveillance testing in response to specific situations, including wastewater results

A limitation of random surveillance testing is that some students are not tested again after entry testing. Others are tested frequently. As a result, an infected individual might never be tested and therefore go undetected, especially since we have found that the vast majority of our positive cases have been asymptomatic. 

In Module 2, we will:

  • increase our individual testing and pursue a modified form of universal testing 
  • conduct testing in a predictable weekly cycle for both students and employees, on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • divide students into three groups, A, B, and C, and test each group every three weeks (A: weeks 1 and 4; B: weeks 2 and 4; C: weeks 3 and 6)
  • conduct additional surveillance testing as prompted by specific circumstances, such as a significant viral load in a wastewater result unassociated with previous positive tests, an increase in the number of symptomatic students, or an unforeseen scenario 
  • offer approximately 100 slots per week for employees working on campus, to be scheduled by HR

As a community, we have done very well in Module 1, and my colleagues and I, with the advice of our medical consultants, believe these improvements in our testing strategy will bolster the likelihood of continued success in Module 2 and help safeguard the F&M community. As we employ this new strategy, we will continue to assess and adapt as necessary.

Thanks to everyone for all you are doing to keep the campus safe and allow us to continue in residence during this most unusual term.