COVID-19 testing made available to students before break


Prior to the announcement of upcoming asymptomatic testing, students could only get tested at the on-campus covid clinic if they expressed symptoms. Concerned asymptomatic students were referred to off-campus testing options. Photo credit: Daisy Castillo

photo by Daisy Castillo

This Thanksgiving, students will be heading home not just for the week-long break but for the remainder of the calendar year. Trinity’s on-campus COVID-19 clinic is preparing in the coming weeks to send students home safely.

“We want to give everybody a chance to be tested prior to going home for winter break, so as a result of that decision, we’re going to be able to open up surveillance testing, asymptomatic surveillance testing, for everyone on and off campus the week of November 9,” said Tess Coody-Anders, vice president for Strategic Communications and Marketing.

By providing testing as an option to all on- and off-campus students regardless of whether or not they show symptoms, students will be able to receive treatment if necessary before potentially exposing family. Announced on Wednesday, campus-wide asymptomatic testing — being referred to as “go-home testing” — will be offered Nov. 10-12. That same week, 350 Trinity community members will also be selected for regular surveillance testing.

“The reason we chose that week is it will give us a chance to help any students who do come back positive to recover before they go home. At the same time, it’ll be really important that we provide some information to students about the steps you can take because you can get it any time, to make yourself extra safe before you return to a home environment that you’ve maybe not been going in and out of,” Coody-Anders said.

The announcement of asymptomatic testing comes after a recent spike in campus community cases, which peaked at 13 last week — most of which were symptomatic. This on-campus spike reflects the spike seen both in San Antonio and across the U.S. as flu season and COVID-19 join forces.

“We’re currently seeing a significant trend upwards in the clinic. What that’s being reflected as is we’re having to test more students with symptoms as well as quarantine and isolate more students,” said José Plata, medical director of Trinity’s COVID-19 clinic. “Last week we had about 13 positives, which in one week is the most we’ve ever had at Trinity. Overall last week, the positivity trend was at 3%, up from 0.5% at the beginning of October.”

Unlike the cases seen at Trinity before, the majority of those reported in the past two weeks have been symptomatic.

“Suddenly we have symptomatic cases, almost all of our positives have been asymptomatic, but suddenly we’re seeing symptomatic cases. I don’t know what that means, but it indicates that there’s been some change either in the virus or the way it’s affecting our population because we were not seeing symptomatic cases before.”

Most of the positive cases seen on-campus have not been from communal living or attending classes but from social gatherings. No reported cases so far have been from students living in City Vista.

“So, we’ve had several situations where, as a result of a social gathering, not only was one person positive and then everybody that was around them in quarantine, but what started happening is that several people that were in quarantine ended up being positive too. So clearly social events off-campus are at high risk for spreading the disease right now, and that’s not to say anything other than ‘Heads up,'” Coody-Anders said. “If you’re going to any kind of social event, off-campus and inside, you want to be really rigorous about asking questions about the size of the gathering, the nature of the gathering, are we all going to be okay wearing masks, social distancing.”

Because of the relationship between social gatherings and positive campus cases, the Residential Life Office and COVID-19 clinic are brainstorming ways to offer safe locations for students to gather socially on-campus. In the meantime, students are encouraged to keep a tight social bubble.

“I just want students to be very careful … the state rate is 10%, so even though Trinity is up-trending, we’re still below the state average and a little bit below the San Antonio average,” said Coody-Anders. “I just don’t want their guard to go down — yes still go to school, yes still have social gatherings, but keep a nice, tight bubble. Don’t start seeing a bunch of people left and right.”

Until the announcement of upcoming asymptomatic surveillance testing, COVID-19 tests have only been administered through surveillance testing and instances a student is showing symptoms. Students who have had primary exposure or are concerned about exposure but do not show symptoms are advised to quarantine for 14 days.

“If I have a history of allergies, and I always have a runny nose, itchy eyes, and a cough at this time of year, we wouldn’t necessarily test you for that. But if a student comes in and says ‘I have those symptoms but also a fever,’ or they’re just doing worse than usual, that’s when we test them,” said Plata. “Or, if they did have a primary exposure — let’s say they went to a party last weekend and one of those individuals tested positive — if now four days later they think they have some muscle aches or fatigue, then we will get them tested. Any new symptoms that are out of the ordinary warrant a test.”

Due to the limited availability of PCR tests and the 14-day incubation period of COVID-19, asymptomatic testing has been of low priority to the clinic prior to the upcoming weeks.

“It’s not feasible to run 14 days of tests — the only result that matters is a positive. If you go and get a negative test, the next day, three days later, four days later, you’re still going to have to stay in quarantine for 14 days because it could be the next day if there’s enough virus in your system to get a positive.”

Once a student in quarantine begins experiencing symptoms, whether or not they were already in quarantine, it is advised that they seek testing at the on-campus clinic.

“If you were exposed, we’ve learned in the last few months that covid can take up to 14 days to show any symptoms. It can be on day one, or it can be on day 13 or 14. If you don’t have a positive result, I don’t know when it’s going to come back positive or when you’re going to develop symptoms. But I do know it can be up to 14 days. That’s why we put you in a 14-day isolation,” Plata said. “The beauty of a positive is ‘Hey, I already know that you’re positive,’ the virus kind of lingers for ten days and no more. There’s usually that three to four-day gap. That’s when most transfers or most spreads happen because the student doesn’t have any symptoms, but they’re out spreading the virus.”

Students looking to go off-campus to receive testing are encouraged to contact the COVID-19 clinic first for guidance.

“All tests are not created equal. Some tests are better for asymptomatic testing and some for when you’re symptomatic. I’d call the covid clinic in advance and get some advice,” Coody-Anders said. “Depending on what kind of test you get off-campus, we may need to repeat it anyway because it may not meet our standard. For example, those rapid antigen point of care tests, they can be up to 50% inaccurate, so we’re just going to have a really high standard on it.”

“We definitely want those results reported to us, especially if they’re positive. If they’re negative, it doesn’t change any isolation or quarantine, but if it’s positive, their 14-day quarantine becomes a ten-day isolation, so they save themselves four days,” Plata said. “When they’re positive, I usually call them and make sure that they’re not having severe symptoms because I can help them with medications and treatment plans if they’re not feeling that great, and that includes after-hours or on the weekends.”

As the semester nears an end and San Antonio sees an increase in positive cases, Trinity’s Nerve Center and administrators are looking at the possibility of shortening or removing spring break from the spring 2021 schedule. Universities across Texas and the U.S. have already made the decision to shorten or remove spring break from their spring plans, an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“Obviously, it has some implications to the academic calendar, so I understand that it’s not something we undertake lightly,” said Coody-Anders. “If you think about it, 6-8 weeks from any sort of big holiday, you see a spike, so you know, everybody comes back at the end of January. Eight weeks later — we’re right there. So, it’s something we’re having to look at closely.”