From: Tom McLarney, MD
Date: July 24, 2020
Subject: Public Health Update
To the Wesleyan Community,
Welcome to the dog days of summer. Did you know this expression actually comes from the rise of Sirius, the dog star, from July 3 to August 11? It has nothing to do with dogs, though my Labrador Retriever remains skeptical. And there’s your piece of trivia for the day!
I write to you amidst a heat wave in Connecticut, as my colleagues and I are working hard in preparation for the start of school, just over a month away. Today, I’d like to share details of Wesleyan’s plans for COVID-19 testing.
For testing on campus, we are partnering with the Broad Institute, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, MA that has a history of performing premier work with human genetics. They also have an extremely large capacity to run tests, and are partnering with many other colleges and universities in New England. The Broad Institute has promised a turn-around time for tests of 36 hours, greatly superior to the typical turnaround time of four to 10 days for many commercial labs.
The Broad Institute will be using a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, a kinder and gentler anterior nasal swab that students, faculty, and staff will self-administer under the observation of Davison Health Center staff. The sensitivity of this test (detection of true positives) is believed to be greater than 95 percent.
Testing at Wesleyan will begin on or around August 24, when students begin moving in to campus residences. All students will be tested on the day they arrive on campus, and must self-quarantine in their student residences. Students returning from any state with high COVID-19 activity will be required to quarantine for 14 days based on current state of Connecticut requirements. The state of Connecticut will also recognize a negative pre-arrival COVID-19 test (with written proof of test) performed within 72 hours of arrival. We are actively seeking guidance from the state related to our testing protocol and whether that will allow for a shorter quarantine based upon two negative results on campus.
On the subject of pre-arrival, we are asking all students to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to arriving on campus. Yes, I realize this will put a damper on the typical end-of-summer farewell celebrations that are a tradition for many students, but for the safety of our campus community, it is essential that students avoid such gatherings and other opportunities for contagion.
Following arrival, students will be tested twice weekly. Testing will be performed outside in tents, as outdoors has been shown to be a safer environment to deter the spread of COVID-19, and six-foot distancing will be enforced. Wesleyan faculty and staff will also be tested regularly, and details on those plans will be forthcoming. We’ll be releasing more details regarding testing locations and appointments in the near future. Wesleyan is also pursuing an app that will remind people of their test times, give test results, and share national and state information related to COVID, among other things.
With the results of these tests, Wesleyan will be performing contact tracing to contain the spread of any contagion. This means that anyone who receives a positive test will be asked about anyone with whom they had close contact (including roommates/housemates, intimate partners, and anyone with whom they have been in contact—less than 6 feet apart—for 15 minutes or longer) within 48 hours prior to the test being performed (or, if the person tested is showing symptoms, within 48 hours prior to symptom onset). We will reach out to these individuals, without revealing the identity of the person who tested positive, and they will be required to quarantine for 14 days (the maximum incubation time for COVID-19). Because people can infect others two days prior to symptom onset, we aim to put close contacts in quarantine before they become infectious, preventing the spread of COVID.
Wesleyan will cover the cost of all testing. Needless to say, if a student, staff, or faculty member will be doing 100 percent of their work virtually (off-campus), there is no need to come to campus for a COVID test. We are not planning to do antibody testing on campus, as these tests do not tell if someone has an active disease, nor do they necessarily mean that person is immune to reinfection from COVID-19.
Testing and contact tracing will go a long way toward keeping us all safe, but practicing other safe behaviors at all times—including wearing masks/face coverings anytime you are in public (outside your own dorm room or private office), staying more than six feet away from others, and washing hands frequently—are also critical. Please pack a thermometer to help self-monitor for illness.
Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing many of you on campus (a safe distance away!) very soon.
Tom McLarney, MD