Throughout October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will study how reliable antigen testing is to monitor spread of COVID-19 among University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students, including those who are asymptomatic.
The results of the study comparing the performance of the antigen test to the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test could have important implications for monitoring and quickly containing outbreaks among college students at other universities across Wisconsin and the nation. The antigen test can have results ready in as few as 15 minutes, while the PCR test takes several days.
“If the CDC can validate the protocol we are following here at UW Oshkosh with scaled up use of the antigen test as part of our Titans Return Plan, we can serve as a model for surveilling students on other campuses,” said Kimberly Langolf, risk manager and project lead for UWO’s COVID-19 Response.
UWO is already conducting PCR testing to confirm positive antigen tests and to check close contacts as well as wastewater testing to assist with early detection of the virus in Oshkosh residence halls.
The CDC study comes as UWO is seeing a decline in its positive test rate over the past seven days, following a surge as students moved back to campus for the start of the fall semester last month. On Sept. 21, the rate was 17.2%; today it is a 6%. Today’s daily rate is 3.5%, and the data continues to indicate that the coronavirus is not spreading in classrooms.
Langolf said the CDC was interested in UWO’s robust testing effort that includes antigen testing as part of its “tool box” for large-scale surveillance and response to outbreaks on campus. All students living in UWO’s residence halls are now being tested weekly.
In partnership with Prevea Health, UWO has the capacity to test up to 430 people per day with antigen tests provided by UW System and without having to wait days for results.
“We can identify and get those who test positive into isolation right away,” Langolf said.
That’s particularly crucial for students in the 18-to-24 age range because they are more likely to be asymptomatic and can spread the disease without being aware that they are ill.
“Some students are even ‘graduating’ from isolation now and moving back to their residence halls. Our testing strategy has been effective. We are in a good place,” Langolf said.
On Thursday morning, UWO Chancellor Andy Leavitt shared news about the decline in positive cases with UWO students, faculty and staff.
“The success we have had is due to a number of factors, but first and foremost it is due to your diligence and care for each other,” he said. “You are wearing a mask inside our buildings, and, from what we see around our campuses, often outdoors as well. You are practicing physical distancing and washing your hands. You are avoiding large gatherings and crowded establishments.”
Leavitt also urged students to keep up their vigilance in following safe COVID-19 practices, such as hand-washing and social distancing.
“This is far from over. We need you to continue to do your part so we can maintain a safe campus environment,” he said.