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Testing on campus has ramped up as students return for the few classes that have in-person aspects or to live in residence halls. Photo courtesy of Marlayna Demond.

UMBC ramps up testing as students return to campus

As the fall semester kicks off, testing is a vital part of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s preparations. According to an email shared exclusively with The Retriever, scheduled campus COVID-19 testing began on August 21 and continued through August 26. Approximately 2550 residential students, commuting students, faculty, and staff were expected to be tested during that period. Residential students will be required to get tested again after the Labor Day weekend. Students had to complete daily online symptom monitoring starting two weeks before coming to campus to ensure that they had not contracted the virus.

Testing on campus is free and free testing is also available at the Baltimore Convention Center.

In addition to those living on campus, those who are taking classes and might not be living in dorms or apartments were required to sign the Retriever Community Agreement, which aims to “minimize the potential spread of COVID-19,” according to UMBC’s COVID-19 website.

The Retriever Community Agreement asks students to verify that they will monitor their health regularly, follow tracking and reporting procedures, follow quarantine rules and practice general public health etiquette.

Students are required to wear a face covering or mask “both on and off-campus in all areas where [they are] close to others or where physical distancing is difficult to maintain,” in accordance with earlier statements. Students are also forbidden from hosting, organizing or attending gatherings or parties on or off campus.

The agreement states that any violation of these rules will result in immediate removal from campus.

In the event that a student tests positive, they will be required to fill out a “COVID-19 Case Report Form,” which asks for personal information and the status of the positive diagnosis.

As of the most available data, announced July 20 via email, five employees and two students had tested positive out of the 310 test results that had been received by the school at the time.

All of the UMBC students and employees who were approved to return to campus this summer were invited to the pilot testing program. 320 of those invited volunteered.

As per health recommendations, UMBC has asked all of the community members who have tested positive to self-isolate for 10 days and see their primary care physician. The official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that those who have not had any symptoms can stop self-isolating 10 days from the initial positive test. The guidelines also note that “because symptoms cannot be used to gauge where these individuals are in the course of their illness, it is possible that the duration of viral shedding could be longer or shorter than 10 days after their first positive test.” UMBC’s University Health Services has also connected with Baltimore County public health officials to “complete contact tracing for positive individuals,” according to the email.

According to Associate Vice President of Engagement in the Office of Institutional Advancement, Lisa Akchin, UMBC is currently working with the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Medicine throughout the process. 

“The pilot was the dress rehearsal for a larger screening that will happen for those people coming back for the fall semester,” said Akchin. 

The prospect of positive tests in the fall brings several challenges as more students return to campus. For example, the necessary isolation following a positive test result will be more difficult, according to Dr. Lucy Wilson, a UMBC emergency health services professor and infectious disease specialist.

“On a campus, you might need to assess whether people need to relocate. If [students are] living together on a floor, somebody might need to go to a different location [and] isolate if they’re symptomatic or people might need to go to a different location to quarantine,” said Dr. Wilson. 

Dr. Wilson spoke to the importance of preventing the transmission of the virus in the first place as the primary way to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, saying “in looking at campus safety, we really have to think about how to minimize transmission as best as possible and how everyone can protect each other. It’s really complicated.”

One of the pieces of the puzzle in helping to combat the virus, Dr. Wilson insists, is wearing masks, an effort supported by the CDC. “Putting the mask on is kind of saying, ‘I don’t know if I have [the virus], but if I have it, I’m trying not to give it to anybody else,’” said Dr. Wilson, adding “wearing the mask is also saying, I want to have this barrier up to try to protect myself.” 

The consideration for others that Dr. Wilson mentioned is essential, particularly when acknowledging the vulnerabilities that some students or staff members could have. “Somebody might have a medical condition that puts them at really high risk of possible complications,” she said.  “And so thinking about what’s going on around you and protecting each other is so important. If you can embrace [the] culture of being in it together and protecting each other, we have a better chance of controlling the virus on campus and having a successful school year.”