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DeKALB – If a student at Northern Illinois University feels ill or thinks they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, they take a test – a system that so far has resulted in 37 positive tests.
But Chief of Staff Matt Streb said NIU is getting more proactive with their testing and will roll out an additional measurement model aimed at more efficiently tracking viral spread on campus.
Starting Wednesday, the university will begin surveillance testing – in which about 125 students a day out of a pool of about 3,000 will be tested. The pool of students who will be tested includes not only those living in residential halls, but those taking in-person classes in which social distancing or mask wearing is not possible.
“It really is a way to identify asymptomatic students and take care of potential hot spots,” Streb said. “Obviously, with residence hall students in particular, this is important because of congregant living. We want to make sure we’re on top of the health of those students. In most normal lecture halls, you’d be 6 feet apart with masks, which most public health bodies would say to do. ... But that can be challenging when you and I have to be dance partners.”
Students will be chosen at random for daily surveillance testing and will be required to participate several times over the course of the fall semester. Students who fail to comply may eventually be removed from the residence halls and classes.
Streb said the test will be a simple nasal swab, not the more invasive nasopharyngeal test that is normally used with COVID-19. He said that was the closest to push back he’s received so far.
“Some students didn’t want to go through [that],” Streb said. “This is much more comfortable than what people normally associate with COVID-19 tests. We did require negative tests before returning to campus, and a lot of what we heard was that they didn’t want to go through that again.”
Testing will take place 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Northwestern Medicine Student Health Center at NIU. Under the guidance of a medical professional, students will self-administer the non-invasive nasal swab. Results will generally be available within 3 to 5 days, and students who have been tested can continue with their normal activities while they await results.
The tests will not cost students any money.
The school will release the surveillance testing data for the week each Monday on its metrics dashboard. This week’s data will go up Tuesday because Monday is Labor Day, Streb said. He also said that when tests begin Wednesday, the school will only test about 60 students per day.
When a student is chosen for testing, they’ll receive an email via their NIU.edu email address with the date and window of time for them to come and test. Those students who have a valid mobile phone number in MyNIU also will receive a text message. Students are responsible for making sure their contact information is up to date in MyNIU.
Students will either be assigned a timeslot of either 8 a.m. to noon or noon to 4 p.m. and should plan to be at the clinic for about 30 minutes. Students are encouraged to come earlier in the window to reduce wait times.
Failure to participate when selected for testing will result in a warning, according to NIU’s COVID-19 website. Failure to reschedule within 24 to 48 hours of your original time could result in removal from the residence halls and classes.
Participation is mandatory for those in residence halls and those in classes in which masks and social distancing are not possible.
Students who have tested positive prior can opt-out of further testing by contacting the Center for Student Assistance.