BGSU tests thousands for COVID-19 leading up to Thanksgiving break
Bowling Green State University has drastically increased COVID-19 testing by standing up a free, on-campus testing site to all students, faculty and staff ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, when most students will return home.
The University secured more than 3,000 rapid COVID-19 tests from the state of Ohio and has been running hundreds of tests daily at Memorial Hall on campus, with results in just 15 minutes.
“Access to this kind of testing, at this capacity, is huge,” said BGSU Chief Health Officer Ben Batey. “Within minutes, we know if an individual is positive and we can work with those individuals to immediately isolate and follow up with contacts who may have been exposed. Many of the cases have symptoms that are mistaken for a cold or seasonal allergies and others are asymptomatic. These individuals could have just gone about their day, never even knowing they were positive and potentially spreading the virus.”
Increased testing demand
The University has been monitoring COVID-19 cases on its campuses throughout the fall semester and included screening and random surveillance testing for asymptomatic students to further track cases.
Earlier this month, the University opened testing for the entire campus community as an additional public health measure, just as case numbers surged in the region. The appointment-based testing does not require a physician’s referral and has reached capacity every day.
“We’re getting back into a period of time where there is so much demand for testing,” said Batey. “Supplies become short, and most of the other testing sites are being stretched thin. We know people are looking for testing and unable to find it, so we wanted to offer a convenient, easy and fast option. We’re doing everything in our power to ramp up this capacity at BGSU so we can to meet the demand before the Thanksgiving holiday.”
BGSU is one of the few universities in the state to offer open COVID-19 testing to all of its students, faculty and staff. In addition to the 15-minute rapid testing, the University community can opt for PCR testing, with results in 24 to 48 hours.
In early November, Wood County Hospital, in partnership with BGSU and the Wood County Health Department, announced onsite Thermo Fisher PCR COVID-19 testing, a highly accurate, high-complexity test used by the Ohio Department of Health, significantly reducing turnaround times for test results.
Because of that testing, and resource support from BGSU’s College of Health and Human Services, Batey said the University was uniquely positioned to accept an allotment of rapid COVID-19 tests from the state and quickly build a program to administer testing using faculty and students from the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program.
"Wood County Hospital can run the tests quickly, but the hospital staff was already stretched thin,” said Batey. "They had no more capacity to administer the rapid testing on campus, so we turned to the medical laboratory science program and asked can we build a team to actually do this? It was a huge undertaking to go through the process to utilize the tests appropriately.”
"Nationwide, there is a critical shortage of laboratory professionals," said Jessica Bankey, director of the MLS program. "Locally, we are feeling the same struggles with finding qualified individuals to perform the testing. Training our MLS students, and having them perform this testing under supervision, helps to alleviate some of these issues. If it weren’t for this amazing group of students, the amount of COVID-19 antigen tests currently being performed would not be possible or achievable."
Medical laboratory students, faculty play critical role
Fifteen medical laboratory science students and faculty volunteered to administer the COVID-19 testing. They were trained in the testing process and how to administer the test so they can guide individuals through the self-administered mid-nasal swab.
Test administrators wear gowns, gloves, goggles and face coverings and remain physically distanced with plexiglass dividers in place.
Once the swab is complete, the medical laboratory science students and faculty apply a reagent and read the results.
It is experience very few laboratory professionals currently have, according to Bankey, and the students' knowledge could make a significant impact in coming months as this type of testing becomes more widely used.
"Our students are being trained to use a product that isn’t available for hospital and clinical use yet due to its allocation," Bankey said. "The group of students that are performing the tests will potentially be the only one at their clinical externship this upcoming spring with experience on the BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen test, once it becomes available for health care systems to purchase, opening up the potential for them to play an important role in implementation of this testing method at their clinical site."
“This is exactly what they study,” said Batey. “Not only are they getting real-world experience in real time, they are making this testing initiative possible as we are starting to stretch the health care system for testing capacity.”
After the Thanksgiving holiday, BGSU will move to an all-virtual instruction until the start of spring semester.
The screening testing is an especially significant public health initiative as students return home and the campus community prepares to possibly see loved ones over the holidays.
“If this testing wasn’t available, you can only image how many people would go about their days and continue to possibly spread COVID-19,” he said. “How many more people would have been impacted? This will make a difference, although we may never know how many more cases we are preventing by doing this work.”