In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, researchers from Duke and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services found that the University’s COVID-19 pool testing system successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
The Nov. 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report discussed the University’s plan, which “allowed campus to remain open for 10 weeks of classes without substantial outbreaks among residential or off-campus populations.” It further concluded that there is no evidence from contact tracing that in-person classes caused the virus to spread.
“A combination of risk-reduction strategies and frequent surveillance testing likely contributed to a prolonged period of low transmission on campus,” the report reads. “These findings highlight the importance of combined testing and contact tracing strategies beyond symptomatic testing, in association with other preventive measures.”
The report was authored by Duke faculty and staff, as well as Zack Moore, chief of the NCDHHS’ Epidemiology Section.
Between Aug. 2 and Oct. 11, COVID-19 testing identified 84 cases among students, according to the report. Of these cases, 17 were detected by entry testing, 29 by pool testing, 23 by contact tracing and 15 by symptom monitoring. Fifty-one percent of these students were asymptomatic at the time of their positive test.
By Sept. 20, asymptomatic undergraduates in Duke housing were tested twice weekly, off-campus undergraduates once or twice a week and graduate students around once a week.
Thomas Denny, professor of medicine, chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the study’s lead author, told The Chronicle in an interview that the University hopes to keep testing at this rate when juniors and seniors return to campus next semester.
The report emphasized that 73% of positive tests were identified through asymptomatic testing and contact tracing, noting that they were “cases that might not have been detected as rapidly or completely through symptomatic testing alone.”
According to the study, Duke averaged a 0.08% positivity rate during each week between Aug. 2 and Oct. 11.
The study also noted other preventative measures, including Duke asking students to quarantine for 14 days before moving in in August, having them sign the Duke Compact, converting all dorms to singles and modifying common spaces to allow for social distancing.
Denny runs a lab in the DHVI that helped develop the procedure for pool testing. The system he helped create takes a small sample from five COVID-19 tests and runs them together. If all the samples are negative, they’re thrown away, but if the pool tests positive, the five samples are tested individually to identify the positive individuals.
“It’s extremely sensitive, so we can get down to very little copies of the virus,” Denny said. “Most of the time, we’re picking up people before they are truly symptomatic.”
I am afraid they are doing the opposite at Penn State where infections are soaring to the extent our county is one of he foremost contributors to the state's infection increase.
I guess it's because the university and sports programs (Football especially) figure so heavily in the economy of the area. Nothing else comes close. There was a radical inflection point when the students returned from Summer Break. (Infections soaring and continuing - as expected.) All containment efforts seem to be just words on paper.
I discuss this with a young man helping me with yard work . - a fraternity member and - but? - very smart. He explains his decision to attend Penn State as 50/50 academics and partying. Says this is typical.
And the students really don't seem to care, "Greek life" especially. No one seems to be remotely considering a return to virtual instruction no matter how bad it gets.
Especially too bad that we are served by a small, "sub par" hospital. One of our great lacks, is that Penn State's Medical School was located in the town of Hershey, thanks to the great wealth of the Hershey family who insisted. (Chocolate outbid everything!) .
-------------------------------- The most dangerous word in the language is "obvious"
W&M has successfully completed the fall semester. So has my other school, Kenyon. Institutions that demanded pre-testing and which repeatedly tested the entire student body seemed to do OK. These schools also tended to have extensive norm-building programs to create a common public health culture on campus. They complemented those norms with serious consequences for violating the norms. And they had exacting tracing regimes and adequate isolation procedures.
If a college/university does things right, I suspect it's a safer environment for students than if they live at home taking zoom classes, often in areas rife with disease.
Posts: 10141 | Location: Williamsburg, VA | Registered: 19 July 2005