Northwest Nazarene University announced Friday that it has begun utilizing a saliva-based surveillance tool that can be used to screen for the presence of COVID-19. The tests, which are being evaluated on campus using equipment NNU already owns, will allow all on-campus students, staff and faculty to be screened on a regular basis. NNU also shared that five community members have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes began Aug. 31.
In an email to the NNU campus community, Brad Kurtz-Shaw, vice president for academic affairs and chair of the 2020-21 COVID Planning Team said, “We knew coming into fall semester that our campus community would not be immune to the impacts of a global pandemic. Currently, we are pleased with the ways the health and safety plans and protocols we have in place are working to help ensure impacted community members are getting the support they need while simultaneously mitigating the spread of the virus on campus … we will continue to work together to do all we can to put Community First as we navigate the challenges that COVID brings our way.”
All five individuals are currently in isolation.
For the asymptomatic surveillance screening that NNU has launched, all on-campus community members have been divided into “pools” and will be able to collect and submit their own saliva sample. The samples are then combined into pools and proactively screened as a group to help preserve privacy. In the case that a positive test results for a pool, NNU Health Services staff can follow-up with those individuals in that pool for additional screening and/or diagnostic testing.
In a statement to the campus community, Dr. Bryon Hemphill, director of health services, said, “This new, more accessible, more affordable surveillance screening allows NNU to add another layer of protection [for NNU].” Hemphill continued, “It helps us to proactively monitor and assess the on-going health of our campus community and provides for early identification of potential infection so that those impacted can be cared for quickly and possible spread can be mitigated early.”
Beta tests of the surveillance screening have been conducted and have confirmed the process is working well. Approximately 1,400 members of the campus have participated in initial screening. Ongoing surveillance screening will continue to include more and more sectors of the NNU community in the next several weeks.
Additional updates will be communicated at nnu.edu/Fall2020 as they become available.