The following update about testing was sent to the Drexel community on Sept. 29:
Dear Members of the Drexel Community,
Over the past two weeks, Drexel conducted baseline COVID-19 testing intended to get a picture of COVID-19 infection among students, faculty and professional staff at the start of the fall quarter. More specifically, this testing strategy was intentionally designed for employees and students who available records indicated would be entering campus buildings during the quarter. Students who are currently fully remote for the quarter and employees who are not returning until Phase 4 were thus excluded from the baseline testing plan. The required testing was done in coordination with the University’s Health Crisis Protocol Policy, which outlines additional measures that may be taken in the event of an epidemic or pandemic. Please note that students, faculty and professional staff who were required to complete the COVID-19 testing but did not get tested will receive individual communications. The testing was made as easy as possible, utilizing InHouse Physicians, a third-party vendor, and results were delivered on location with clear directions and health counseling as needed.
Along with core risk reduction strategies, testing can help further identify infected individuals and create situational awareness for our community. The city of Philadelphia continues to cautiously reopen select businesses and events while the overall test positivity rate remains below 5 percent, with the aim to go as low as possible through risk reduction strategies coupled with isolation of infected persons and quarantine of those exposed.
Baseline Testing Results
At Drexel, among 1,655 employees tested, the positivity rate was 0.1 percent. Among 1,506 students tested, the positivity rate was 2.5 percent. While this rate is below 5 percent, we aim to do better. Note that among those tested, some students who participated in our baseline testing were outside the selection process. In other words, some students living off campus with fully remote studies this quarter sought testing and are included in the baseline count. If baseline testing data only included the students required to participate, the positivity rate decreases from 2.5 percent to 0.1 percent. Thus, for those who were intended to participate in fall quarter baseline testing, the overall positivity rate was approximately 0.1 percent.
Additional Testing Results
Over the past two months, many populations of students have undergone COVID-19 testing for an array of reasons. These include health care professions students who must be tested prior to departing for clinical rotations, medical students who arrived weeks ago during national surges who were quarantined and tested on arrival, and law students who quarantined and obtained testing before the start of their semester. The positivity rates among these populations have also been extremely low.
Adding all screening tests performed over the past two months, including baseline testing, 4,284 students have received a COVID-19 test for screening purposes. The positivity rate overall for these students was 1 percent.
The data presented here is imperfect, representing different populations tested over a period of time with different modalities, and we note there are many ways to interpret it. Data on symptomatic students is not included here. Regardless, this first round of test results is encouraging. All students positive for COVID-19 infection have received counseling and directions concerning isolation, and their contacts have been directed to quarantine. All active as well as cumulative cases of COVID-19 among Drexel students and employees are posted daily on the Drexel COVID-19 Dashboard. Note the dashboard is under revision to better reflect data over time and provide a fuller picture of our campus community.
While there is no gold standard for the role of COVID-19 testing at institutions of higher education, review of current national and regional testing strategies points to an evolving role for testing of asymptomatic students.
Baseline testing was intended to give us a picture of a population coming into campus buildings for the fall quarter. Baseline testing was mandatory, and once completed, COVID-19 testing is not routinely required for students or employees to enter campus buildings. Decisions regarding further quarterly baseline testing for members of the Drexel community and any further surveillance employee testing will be guided by evolving guidelines, real-time experience, and pandemic conditions in our region and our campus community.
Regardless of learning modality (remote or hybrid) students who currently live off-campus, particularly those with three or more roommates, may be at higher risk of COVID-19 infection because of more opportunities for exposure. These students can benefit from being COVID-19 tested. Note that the Philadelphia health department has informed all universities and colleges in Philadelphia that outbreaks among young adults often stem from small gatherings. This may elevate risk among households with higher numbers of roommates.
Student COVID-19 Testing: Next Steps
The results of early testing at Drexel, coupled with the experience of addressing the intense, accompanying logistics of working with multiple populations on different academic calendars, provided some key lessons that shape next steps.
Based on our experience thus far, we want to clarify COVID-19 testing availability for Drexel students. Testing availability pertains to all students, including those who are fully remote in their studies and living off-campus at this time.
1. All students with symptoms of COVID-19 infection should call the Student Health Center at 215.220.4700 and be assessed for testing. We recommend all students use the Health Tracker App to actively monitor their symptoms and to easily access up-to-date resources regarding COVID-19. Student Health is here for you.
2. All students who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should also contact the Student Health Center for assessment and testing.
3. Students without symptoms of infection can still benefit from testing. We want to particularly encourage students with three or more roommates to consider regular COVID-19 testing, but all Drexel students are welcome. COVID-19 testing will be available to asymptomatic Drexel students every Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in Myers Hall beginning Monday, October 12. Directions on how to access the Myers testing site will be shared with students next week and will be available on the Student Health Center and Drexel Response to Coronavirus websites.
4. Once more frequent testing is underway, we will further assess implementing a more specific testing strategy that aims to have all students routinely tested. Such a plan will take everyone’s cooperation. It is important to understand that testing strategies and protocols will be refined with experience, further opening of campus programs and housing, and the willing participation and cooperation of our campus community.
Moving Forward Together
Our goal as a campus community must be to collectively reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection as much as possible by following all campus protocols including using the Drexel Health Tracker app, wearing face coverings, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. Risk of infection is also reduced through testing, isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing. If we do these things together, we can collectively create the opportunity to cautiously reopen more of the University and our academic programs. COVID-19 testing identifies infected persons, helps us reduce risk and creates situational awareness that can further help all of us better follow risk reduction strategies.
As a University devoted to civic engagement, we also note that beyond the campus, our actions contribute directly to the health of Philadelphia and the ability of our City to further reopen schools, businesses and more. The COVID-19 pandemic shows us how interconnected we are and how we depend on one another. We aim to be a culture of health and caring. There is no room for complacency.
We thank the many members of our community who work around the clock to keep us safe. We thank you for your ongoing support and continued engagement throughout this process. We continue to ask for your patience and kindness as we fine-tune protocols, troubleshoot challenges and respond to your needs — all within the context of one of the most challenging times in history. Please be safe and well in the weeks and months ahead.
Janet Cruz, MD, Director, Student Health Services, and Marla Gold, MD, Director, Return to Campus Operations