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COVID-19 Winter Break Test Kits: Are They Making A Difference?

COVID-19 Winter Break Test Kits: Are They Making A Difference?
A student sits in the FGCU library following the university's COVID-19 guidelines. EN photo by Julia Bonavita.

By Katie Fogarty

Contributing Writer

FGCU issued free optional COVID-19 saliva PCR tests for students and staff to take before leaving for winter break, according to fgcu.edu/coronaupdate.

“The Winter Break test kit program was a proactive measure by the university to minimize the number of COVID-19 positive individuals on campus who could potentially be exposing others,” Chief of Staff Susan Evans said.

Test kits included two saliva PCR tests and were sent to the addresses of the students and staff who requested them. Test results were given within 72 hours of the test kits being sent to the testing facilities.

FGCU administered the tests through the Clinical Reference Laboratory, according to Evans. Clinical Reference Laboratory is one of the largest privately held testing laboratories within the U.S.

According to the chair of FGCU’s department of bioengineering, Dr. Geiger, the PCR tests went through a molecular testing method for the virus. The PCR tests detect the SARS-CoV-2 strains of coronavirus by detecting the presence of the RNA –ribonucleic acid– of the virus.

“[This] machine is used to amplify any viral RNA present in [a] sample using a technique known as a polymer chain reaction,” said Dr. Geiger. “Because of this amplification process, it is much more sensitive to lower quantities of virus present in sample[s].”

Dr. Geiger said tests like the winter break kits are beneficial because they help determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in a community. They also identify individuals who are positive for COVID-19 to minimize the further spread of the virus.

Bethany Kruger, a freshman at FGCU, said the optional testing kits help protect students and staff as many return from holiday travels.

“I think there is definitely a benefit to this,” Kruger said. “I even think it would be better for all students to be required to show proof of negative test results upon return. Cases are higher than ever, and many people disregarded social distancing recommendations over the break. If these people brought COVID back to campus, it could end very badly.”

Tammy Yzaguirre, the spokesperson for the Department of Health in Lee County, said the testing kits at FGCU could result in students becoming more aware when headed back to campus.

The testing kits administered by FGCU could also reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to the older population in Lee and surrounding counties.

“Any positive cases in Lee County present a risk to others in the community, particularly if the students are employed off-campus and interacting with the general public,” said Yzaguirre.

Despite benefits to the test, several students said they did not choose to request one since they felt FGCU gave little notice, albeit around finals week, to order the testing kits.

“I did not request a testing kit only because I left too early to be able to pick it up,” Kruger said. “I felt that they gave very little notice ahead of time, and by the time I could have ordered [one], it would have been too late, and I would have been gone.”

Nicholas Tennant, a sophomore at FGCU, said he did not request a kit due to his availability around finals week.

“I was planning on signing up for the test, but the kits were being offered around the same time as finals,” Tennant said. “I completely forgot about the testing kits until it was too late. Thankfully my family and I have all been cautious about COVID-19 and are all well.”

Tennant said the testing kits are especially valuable for students and staff returning to homes with family members who could be particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“Even if just a few people get a positive result and stay home, that’s much less [of a] risk,” Tennant said.

Caroline Jaeger, a junior at FGCU, requested the testing kit but didn’t feel like the kits will make a notable difference at FGCU.

“I think the students who are concerned will take the tests, and those who are not concerned about COVID will not,” Jaeger said. “I think it is a possibility that if more students took the tests, we might have less students returning to campus.”

Dr. Geiger said the optional testing kits might attract more Corona-conscious individuals than other individuals at FGCU.

“If the people who participate in the program are also individuals who are choosing to isolate, then the results collectively might give us a skewed sense of how prevalent the spread is within our community,” Dr. Geiger said.

As of January 13, over 1,500 student and staff test kits are being processed. According to Evans, the positivity rate has been low at 1.7%.

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