Students play major role in DSU’s COVID testing program

A Delaware State University student tests for COVID-19 ahead of the fall semester. When students return to campus this month, testing protocols will remain in place. The people behind those testing sites are other students. Submitted photo

DOVER — When students returned to Delaware State University’s campus, their peers were helping coordinate the effort that brought them all back: COVID-19 testing.

“I’m extremely proud of how our students stepped up,” said Chris Mason, chairman of the Public and Allied Health Department at DSU. “I’m very proud of our undergraduate students and also faculty that have volunteered at our test sites. We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off otherwise.”

As the university looks toward the spring semester, with more students coming back and more in-person classes, undergraduates will continue to be involved with the rigorous testing plan the university rolled out when it first brought students to campus in a landscape shaped by coronavirus.

Students left campus for Thanksgiving break and are returning to campus for the first time since in mid-January.

When students left in November, the university reported it had conducted 37,000 COVID-19 tests, with a 0.4% positivity rate after testing everyone on campus bi-weekly.

The university partnered with Testing for America, a nonprofit that awarded the university a grant to purchase test kits and consulted with DSU to develop a testing plan.

Before classes resume Jan. 19, students will be asked to be tested before their return to campus. They will be tested again once they’re on campus, Dr. Mason said.

“Considering that we’ll have a slightly larger campus population, it’s still very important to stay within that two-times-per-week testing cadence, which worked extremely well for us. Not only does it keep us safe but it actually helps people to feel like they’re safe when they’re on campus,” he said. “You’re constantly getting results if you’re getting tested twice a week; you’re getting a result that comes into your email quite frequently during the week.”

As they head into the spring, Dr. Mason said the biggest lesson they learned was that it takes “a complete buy-in from the entire university community that starts with simple fundamental things,” like social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing.

It was that initial buy-in that allowed for the university to stay open and have people on campus, which led to how they staffed testing sites, Dr. Mason said.

“Unlike other universities around the country who are larger and may have more resources, we didn’t have the luxury of outsourcing our staffing up at that site so we had to be creative in how we were going to be able to stand them up,” he said. “And so what we did was look internally.”

It fell mostly to Dr. Mason’s department which oversees public health education. With that, the university created an internship program for undergraduate students.

“It was a good thing that came out of the pandemic, being able to offer this type of internship and also giving students an opportunity to combat a legitimate global pandemic and do their part right here in Delaware,” he said. “No experiential learning can really top what the students actually experienced last semester.”

With some grant funding, approximately 10 students will be paid for their work in supervisory roles at the test sites. The internship program started last semester will roll into this semester, too, he said.

This semester, the program will be able to focus on specific leadership and communication skills needed to work at the testing sites and have more inclusive training with students training other volunteers, etc., he said.

“Generally speaking, we just want to continue to build on the momentum that we created last semester, and do things a little bit better but typically in the same format that we used in the fall,” he said.

With the pandemic limiting gathering, internship opportunities have all but dried up and virtual internship slots are limited. DSU undergraduates not only got their internship credits, but also got hands-on experience, he said.

“[They] had an opportunity of a lifetime to really work and respond to a pandemic, and actually apply a lot of the public health information and content that they’ve been learning over the last four years,” he said.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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