Campus Bulletin: Current Students, Faculty and Staff, Parents, ObieSafe

COVID-19 Testing Overview

July 24, 2020 5:00 PM

Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin Community,

By now you have likely heard me speak about Oberlin’s layered health care strategy via video, webinar, email, Twitter, and Instagram.  I have spent my moments with you in this way because our community effort to safeguard this campus is paramount.  I so value what you all do for Oberlin, and your safety has been my focus as we prepare for the fall reopening.  Being on this campus together with students who are eager to take on the world, top-notch faculty contributing to the advancement of knowledge, and the full engagement of our staff is what makes this campus so special.

Many of you have been at the center of the work being done to create and implement the 3-semester plan.  As you know, the health and safety portions of this plan de-densifies the campus, provides measures for physical distancing, has technology that supports symptoms monitoring, ensures enhanced cleaning, provides masks and appropriate protective equipment, and supports COVID-19 testing.

Our testing strategy is one of the most intensive aspects of our approach to a safe campus. This testing will be ongoing throughout the academic year so that we can monitor and respond to COVID-19. I call our approach “intensive” because we are committed to applying this strategy to the entire campus community, about 3,500 people every month. Our effort to ramp up testing on campus is significant, involving Tempus, a company from Chicago, and Mercy Health – Allen Hospital and its sister company Harness Health Partners out of Cincinnati, along with numerous staff from the College. The effort to coordinate the logistics, manage the data and databases, and solve the many operational challenges, has kept many people on our campus busy for weeks.

To support the success of this effort, I wanted to provide you with a broad overview of how it will all work:

The test

  • We opted for the PCR test. This molecular test detects genetic material of the COVID-19 virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).  Molecular tests are considered very accurate when properly performed by a health care professional.  The PCR test can be performed rapidly, but the PCR rapid test is less effective.  We have therefore decided to send our test to an outside lab for analysis.

  • Tempus is the lab that has agreed to process all of Oberlin College’s samples.  This agreement assures specific lab time for Oberlin and the processing of our results within 24-48 hours of Tempus’ receipt of Oberlin’s samples.

  • During the test itself, a health care worker will collect fluid by inserting a swab into each nostril just up to an inch or so. This video link will provide you with a sense of the testing procedure.

The process

  • Testing will take place at the Williams Field House on campus. We needed one of our largest indoor spaces to practice physical distancing and to accommodate the logistics of testing thousands of people a month.

  • We will test all of our faculty, staff, and students upon arrival in August, beginning with faculty and staff during the first and second week of the month.

  • Students will be tested when they arrive on campus and in accordance with the schedule they receive from residence education.

  • It will be important for you to arrive at your scheduled time to help us all maintain physical distancing.

  • From September through Thanksgiving, we will test 25 percent of the entire campus population each week. This means that each person will be tested once a month.

  • We will schedule your testing to accommodate your classes.  There will be an opportunity to reschedule tests to accommodate people, but given the volume of people testing each week, we will need to keep these changes to a minimum.

  • We are still in the process of developing the full scheduling mechanisms, but we hope to create a systematic process in which you come to know your monthly testing schedule.  We will communicate about the full process of scheduling your monthly COVID-19 test in the near future.

Williams Field House

  • When you approach the entrance to Williams Field House, Mercy Health – Allen Hospital employees will take your temperature and ask you a series of questions required by the Centers for Disease Control.

  • If you have a fever, you will be asked to step aside for additional evaluation and may receive a separate, more rapid COVID test at Mercy. If you do not have a fever or other symptoms, you will enter the Field House.

  • After standing in a line organized at 6-foot intervals for distancing, you will register, complete a consent form and answer questions the Ohio Department of Health requires, and receive a labeled bag with the vial that will ultimately hold your sample.

  • You will be directed to another line, where you will wait for one of eight testing bays to become available. A health care professional will be there to take your sample, label it and place it in a bag.

  • You will then be able to leave the Field House; and the labeled bag with your sample will remain with the health care professional until it is shipped to Tempus that day.

  • Federal Express is picking up the Oberlin samples twice a day from the Field House for shipment to Tempus in Chicago.

Notification of results

  • Reporting the test results requires a knowledge of federal privacy and health care law. We also have responsibility to Lorain County Public Health.

  • Tempus will report results to Mercy Health – Allen Hospital, which will use email to notify individuals and the student health center of the test results. Mercy Health is working to establish a portal where each person tested will be able to view their results.

  • In the event of a positive test:

    • Mercy Health – Allen Hospital is obligated to notify students of a positive result first. The hospital also will notify Lorain County Public Health. Tempus is required to notify a student’s home county health department.

    • Faculty and staff will be directed home and advised to consult their doctor.

    • Student Health Services will contact those students who test positive and help determine next steps. Depending upon the severity of symptoms, students could see a doctor or isolate in The Hotel at Oberlin, which will be dedicated to housing those who test positive.

    • Lorain County Public Health will begin contact tracing, determining who on campus may need to quarantine if their exposure to the COVID-19 positive person warrants such action. 

Our partners at Mercy Health – Allen Hospital and Harness Health Partners, as well as Tempus, are dedicated to the success of this initiative. It is a significant undertaking, made all the more worthwhile by its goal: to help keep our community safe and healthy.

We should all keep in mind, testing only provides a moment-in-time snapshot.  Individuals who test negative could be exposed to the virus a day later or not have generated enough viral load to register a positive test reading. Fortunately, COVID-19 testing is being done in conjunction with all of the other layers of our health strategy. We are using testing as an important tool in our comprehensive strategy.

We will continue to update you on the other layers of our health care strategy in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, for more general information, please see our ObieSafe website and be on the lookout for our weekly ObieSafe newsletter.

Stay well,

Carmen Twillie Ambar