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Weber State moves fast to start rapid COVID-19 testing of students

300 volunteered within 24 hours to help support testing effort

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Weber State University begins the first day of widescale COVID-19 testing for students and employees at the Ogden campus on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Weber State had previously offered free testing for anyone with possible coronavirus symptoms. The new process will allow for free rapid testing for thousands of people even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Briana Scroggins, Weber State University

OGDEN — Crediting the university’s “can-do attitude,” Weber State University President Brad Mortensen heralded the launch of rapid COVID-19 testing at its Ogden campus Tuesday.

Mortensen said 300 volunteers stepped up in 24 hours to assist with the testing initiative, which aims to test 7,000 people before the university’s Thanksgiving break.

“To see people rally together when there’s so much tumult in the world is really positive and reassuring,” Mortensen said.

After Tuesday’s “test of the test,” the university plans to test 500 people daily starting later this week.

Students with a positive test result will receive a telephone call within an hour of being tested, and those with negative results will receive an email by the end of the day. Contact tracing will begin immediately if results are positive.

Beginning Jan. 1, all Utah college students who live on campus or take at least one class in person are expected to be tested for COVID-19 weekly under a new order issued by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Sunday.

The Utah Department of Health distributed 8,000 rapid antigen test kits to the university, Mortensen said.

The test requires a swab of a lower nostril, which is applied to a card roughly the size of a credit card, which can detect the presence of proteins found on or within the novel coronavirus. 

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was on hand to visit the testing site and learn how the university quickly responded to recommendations by federal officials to do more testing of college students who are largely asymptomatic and can unknowingly spread COVID-19. In recent weeks, people ages 15-24 have contributed to spikes in coronavirus cases in Utah.

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Weber State University begins the first day of widescale COVID-19 testing for students and employees at the Ogden campus on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Weber State had previously offered free testing for anyone with possible coronavirus symptoms. The new process will allow for free rapid testing for thousands of people even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Benjamin Zack, Weber State University

White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently visited Utah leaders and urged them do more to test college students, Adams said.

Adams said he was pleased how quickly Weber State University responded. Its testing initiative is largely staffed by volunteers but also faculty and staff with specialized training and expertise.

“In less than a week, Weber State University set up a process to test students daily. Finding sustainable solutions like increased testing is a vital part of dealing with COVID-19. I am thrilled to see the results of this effort and strongly believe the more we test, the faster we will control the virus,” Adams said in a statement.

He noted that the University of Utah plans to get its testing underway this week, too, with plans to offer testing to 32,000 people before Thanksgiving break.

One of the challenges of the testing program statewide will be maintaining a sufficient supply of tests from the federal government to support weekly testing across all Utah colleges and universities starting in 2020.

“One of the things we’re most concerned about is that we continue to get the tests from the federal government,” Adams said. “I talked to the governor earlier today and he’s reinforcing that with the CDC.”