COVID-19 testing at Quinnipiac University looks different this semester with every student that has not tested positive in the last 90 days needing three negative tests before starting in-person activities, and all undergraduate students being tested every week in February.
“We will probably be quicker to respond to cases, at least in residential settings,” said Dr. David Hill, the university’s senior medical adviser and professor of medical sciences. “If we see some signals through our testing that there are three or four or five cases that seem to be clustered on a floor or in a dorm, we may choose to quarantine the dorm, until we get more information.”
As of Jan. 31, Quinnipiac has entered a “yellow alert level” with 54 active cases in isolation. According to the COVID-19 dashboard, campus operation doesn’t change other than increased communication with the community.
In the email about the shift to yellow alert, Hill said there were clusters identified in the Hill 10s building and the Commons residence hall. Students who live there will have to quarantine for 10 days, regardless if one tested positive or has COVID-19 symptoms. They can end their quarantine after getting a negative PCR test result on Feb. 9.
“We regret having to impose these measures,” Hill wrote in the email. “However, we know from prior experiences and those at other campuses that this is the best approach to manage outbreaks.”
Juliette Lapointe, a first-year media studies major who lives in Commons, said she was not informed of the quarantine prior to the mass communication.
“I could feel and hear the frustration throughout our building,” Lapointe said. “I feel very frustrated that this happened before our campus-wide containment period was over.”
Although Lapointe is upset she has to quarantine for another 10 days, she thinks having frequent testing is a smart choice since it can prevent an outbreak.
“I just hope this will not be an ongoing cycle of our residence halls going into quarantine throughout the semester,” Lapointe said.
A new measure of safety this semester is that Quinnipiac is partnering with the University of Connecticut to conduct pooled saliva testing for students who are in quarantine.
“So we might want to test an entire floor, or an entire dorm, quickly quarantine the dorm until we get the results back,” Hill said. “And then make our decision on what we want to do with a dorm. So we’re really looking very hard that we don’t get into the situation we were in the fall where it seems that the case numbers got ahead of us.”
Hill also said that part of the new testing protocol is that the university will use two different kinds of rapid tests: BinaxNOW and Abbott’s ID NOW.
BinaxNOW was used last semester for students who showed COVID-19 symptoms, but is not as precise at detecting asymptomatic cases. The new test, Abbott’s ID NOW, is a molecular test, which is more accurate for detecting asymptomatic cases.
In-person classes did not lead to the spread of COVID-19 last semester, Hill said. However, all faculty and staff have been tested prior to their return to campus as an added safety measure, since last semester they did not have to be tested. They can also request to be tested whenever they want under Quinnipiac’s health insurance.
Hill also discussed how since COVID-19 is more prevalent now, it has posed more of a challenge upfront as compared to last semester. This semester’s pre-arrival testing had 182 positive cases, as opposed to last semester when there were about 20.
Another concern is the new variants of the virus that are being detected, such as the British strain, which has been found to be 50-70% more infectious. There are eight confirmed cases of the British variant in Connecticut, and two live in New Haven, according to Gov. Ned Lamont. However, it has not been found to cause more severe symptoms.
“I think that’s a big challenge is that (COVID-19) is all around us,” Hill said. “And it’s going to be easier to catch it. So the second big challenge is that our students need to be as responsible as possible. And that’s why, you know, the messaging has been so strong, trying to get our students to protect themselves and protect the community.”
Hill also talked about how last semester went downhill really fast after some students broke the COVID-19 policies, leading to a total of 525 cases in the fall 2020 semester.
“A small percentage can ruin it for everyone,” Hill said. “I mean, there’s no other way to look at it. A small percentage shut down our campus by their behavior. We can’t have that kind of thing happen in March because we want to be on campus — we want to enjoy the spring.”
Lapointe said she is worried that something similar to the fall semester outbreak could happen again this semester.
“It was very frustrating all week to hear about and see other students breaking the containment rules within our first week back because it affects the rest of our community,” Lapointe said.
Despite starting off with more COVID-19 cases this semester, Hill is optimistic that this semester will not end early.
“I think we’re going to be on top of this by our testing approach,” Hill said. “We’ve done everything possible to be successful in terms of the way we’ve set up our dorms and our classrooms and our meals and our messaging. And now it’s up to all of our faculty, staff and students to run with it.”