Virginia Tech keeping watch on COVID-19 through surveillance testing, case management
By Laurie Stacy
Building on Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 testing strategy, the university has implemented surveillance testing for students and high-contact employee groups and a case management process to help those in the university community who test positive for the virus.
Surveillance testing defined
Surveillance testing is different from diagnostic testing. A diagnostic test is used to confirm an illness, such as performing a COVID-19 test on someone with symptoms to confirm if they are positive or negative for the virus.
Surveillance testing provides a way to test groups of individuals who are assumed to be healthy in order to make predictions on how an illness spreads in populations.
“Surveillance testing is an important part of our overall efforts to monitor and minimize the spread of COVID-19 at Virginia Tech,” said Mike Mulhare, assistant vice president of emergency management. “With surveillance testing, certain populations will be tested more frequently, which helps us understand the overall health of our campus and provides data that can inform decisions about Virginia Tech operations.”
Surveillance testing at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s surveillance testing strategy focuses on three testing categories that will continue through the fall 2020 semester: High-contact employees, ongoing student population testing, and student athlete testing.
Ongoing testing of the student population will occur throughout the fall semester to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 within the campus community. Surveillance testing will occur through an ongoing testing clinic, and will include residential and off-campus students. The frequency and number of these tests will be a function of the university’s overall testing capacity. Students selected for surveillance testing will receive a letter with instructions on how to schedule a test appointment.
Student athletes will be tested following the ACC guidelines for sport-dependent testing frequency.
High-contact employees are individuals or groups of employees who are at a higher risk of exposure due to the nature of their job or academic responsibilities. These employees are in close contact with or have a higher interaction with the public or each other and often cannot maintain physical distancing, which is defined as being within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes.
Based on the exposure risk levels described in the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) Emergency Temporary Standard Sec. 16 VAC 25-220, Virginia Tech identified approximately 1,100 employees whose risk of COVID-19 exposure based on their job is very high, high, medium high, or medium. The majority of the employees identified fell within the medium high or medium categories.
Voluntary testing will be available to faculty, staff, and wage employees as well as student workers who fall within the high contact definition, as testing allows based on the university’s overall capacity. The university’s goal is to test the entire population of high contact employees every two to three weeks.
High-contact employees will be notified directly by their department or college leadership or human resources partner and will receive an invitation to schedule a test appointment. High-contact employees will be tested at no cost to them. Employees should complete the Hokie Health check and receive a “green OK” from the app before reporting for their test appointment.
“While testing for high contact employees is voluntary, we encourage these employees and student workers to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Bryan Garey, vice president for human resources. “The test is free to these individuals and testing will be counted as part of time-worked. Their participation in the university’s surveillance testing is critical to helping us understand the potential spread of COVID-19 on our campuses.”
For individuals who are not identified to be part of a high contact group, but believe they have an increased level of risk due to their role, an exception process exists to determine surveillance testing eligibility. Employees who believe they are in a “high contact” position should contact Hokie Wellness at 540-231-4600.
Employees should be prepared to answer a series of questions about the contact they have in their role, other on-site work factors that may put them at a higher risk, and the environmental and personal protective measures that are in place. Determinations on exceptions will be made case-by-case based on the information provided by the individual.
Symptomatic testing and reminders for students, faculty, and staff
Virginia Tech’s investment in surveillance testing will help the university identify trends and make predictions. However, testing for students with COVID-19 symptoms or for those who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 will always take priority over surveillance testing.
“We are happy to expand our testing strategy to include surveillance testing for high contact employees in addition to more students,” said Chris Wise, assistant vice president for student affairs, health and wellness. “That said we must also ensure our students can receive testing through the university if they need it.”
Any student or faculty, staff, or wage employee that has symptoms of COVID-19 or a known exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should quarantine and not attend class or come to work.
- Students should follow this guidance to find out what they should do next
- Faculty, staff and wage employees should follow this guidance to find out what they should do next.
All members of the Virginia Tech community are reminded to use the Hokie Health check, part of the Hokie Ready app, every day before attending class or coming to a Virginia Tech campus or office to monitor your health.
Managing COVID-19 cases
When a member of the Virginia Tech community is tested through the university and tests positive, Schiffert Health Center, Athletics, or Occupational Health staff from Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) will notify the individual, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the university’s Case Management Team.
Using a set of established guidelines, this team which includes representatives from different areas of Virginia Tech, serves the entire university community, helping those who test positive navigate what they need to do. The team also supports VDH’s contact-tracing efforts.
Employees who test positive through their primary care physician or an urgent care facility are encouraged to self-disclose their diagnosis to the university’s Environmental Health and Safety Occupational Health Nurse and take advantage of the service provided through case management.
See this flowchart for avenues of reporting a positive COVID-19 test result at Virginia Tech:
- Undergraduate students contact the Dean of Students at 540-231-3787. This office will provide ongoing support for a student’s personal, social, and academic needs.
- Faculty, staff, and wage employees and graduate students contact the Environmental Health and Safety Occupational Health Nurse at 540-231-8733. Faculty, staff, and wage employees must also notify their supervisor so that work schedules and leave can be determined.
- Contractors or vendors contact their project manager or university contact who then reports the positive test result to the Environmental Health and Safety Occupational Health Nurse at 540-231-8733.
Amy Epperley, director of Hokie Wellness and a member of the Case Management Team said, “The goal is to serve as a support system for our students, faculty, staff, and wage employees who test positive for the virus. It can be confusing to know what to do next, and our team is here to help students and employees on the steps they need to take from isolating, to understanding their class or work options, and when they can return to class or work, and how to help the VDH in their contact-tracing efforts.”
Commitment and Caring
Virginia Tech’s testing, tracing, and case management efforts are making resources available to the members of the community who need them. They are also helping the university monitor and predict the needs of campus to slow the spread of COVID-19. But these steps alone won’t eliminate the virus at Virginia Tech.
“While the university is confident in the efforts and resources we have put in place, it takes every member of our community to help,” said Mulhare. “We need everyone to take care of themselves and each other by wearing a mask or face covering, both indoors and outdoors; maintaining physical distance; and following all of the health guidelines we have in place. Commitment and caring are part of who we are as Hokies and it’s how we will get through the pandemic together.”