COVID-19 Testing Strategies: 10 Lessons from Colleges

Colleges across the United States returned to campus in the fall of 2020 after a spring semester of remote learning and a summer break. Campuses quickly developed and adopted numerous strategies for frequent COVID-19 testing and data reporting in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty, staff members, and the neighboring community.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has assessed these strategies and provided 10 important takeaways for COVID-19 testing at colleges. While these lessons apply to the current crisis that many organizations face, they also should provide insight into future business continuity planning efforts.
1. Testing is one component of a larger mitigation strategy.
Comprehensive and coherent plans that provide a range of redundancies are necessary to reduce COVID-19’s spread. In addition to widespread diagnostic testing , encourage protective behaviors such as mask wearing, handwashing, physical distancing, isolation for those infected with COVID-19, and quarantine for those exposed to the virus. Other measures include reconfiguration of classrooms and residence halls, more frequent cleaning and maintenance, wastewater surveillance, and upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Consider schedule changes such as longer holiday breaks or staggered campus openings that limit the possibility of exposure and allow for quarantine periods as necessary.
2. Strategies must match the needs and circumstances of the particular institution.
Variations in COVID-19 testing strategies depended on factors such as the presence of a medical school or lab on campus, the amount of on-campus housing and the scale of campus social life, the design and operation of dining facilities, and the potential for certain programs to be offered via remote learning. Strategy must also account for the rate of COVID-19 transmission within the community at large. Explore the potential of more cost-effective pool batch testing for large groups where the prevalence of infection is likely to be low.
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3. Engage leadership at the highest levels while including interdisciplinary teams.
Consistent and frequent virtual meetings are key to sharing information and developing plans. Coordination across an institution is vital and should include leadership, facilities, student life, and the medical school (if present). Ensure all testing policies comply with local, state, and federal laws, including considerations for essential workers. Multi-campus systems should include all locations, and smaller colleges clustered in a city or region should likewise pursue coordinated efforts such as centralized resources for testing and analysis.
4. Collaborate with local public health authorities and other partners.
Local and state policies such as...