The Husky Coronavirus Testing program is powered by the Seattle Flu Study – the group that was the first to report community spread of COVID-19 in the United States. Enrollment in the voluntary testing program begins Sept. 24 and is encouraged for all students, faculty and staff who will be on campus regularly or living in group housing in nearby neighborhoods during the fall quarter. Testing will be provided at no cost at designated testing sites on the Seattle campus, and with self-administered tests provided at the Bothell and Tacoma campuses. The COVID-19 testing will be performed by the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine, which runs the Seattle Flu Study.
The program consists of four distinct components: return-to-campus testing, community testing, symptomatic testing and rapid response testing. The goals of the program are to quickly identify any positive cases as students, faculty and staff return to campus; to monitor possible spread of the virus throughout the quarter; to provide a quick and accessible testing resource to anyone experiencing symptoms or with possible exposure; and to quickly respond in the event that an outbreak does occur.
“Widespread testing – especially of people who aren’t experiencing symptoms – is one important way to protect our entire community from COVID-19. Young people are just as likely to catch COVID-19 as older people, even if they are less likely to develop severe illness. People of all ages with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for developing severe illness and the long-term effects of COVID-19 illness are still unclear,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said. “The sooner we get the pandemic under control, the sooner we can return to a more ‘normal’ way of living, learning and working.”
Testing for students in fraternities and sororities began Sept. 8 through the affiliated SCAN program. Students in Seattle on-campus housing will be offered testing throughout their move-in period Sept. 22-25. All students are encouraged to enroll in the Husky Coronavirus Testing program when it begins Sept. 24, regardless of whether they have had a previous test. This will help the University provide proper support and self-isolation options before the quarter begins.
“We expect to find up to a few hundred positive COVID cases when testing the initial group of about 10,000 people returning to UW campuses and neighborhoods for fall quarter – and that is precisely the point of our return-to-campus Husky testing program,” said Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, an infectious disease expert in the UW School of Medicine and chair of the UW’s Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases. “Identifying these positive individuals right away – and getting them into self-isolation – is critical toward stemming any spread on campus once in-person instruction and other campus activities begin.”
The fall quarter begins Sept. 30. The UW announced last month that about 90% of classes will be held remotely. Those in-person classes that were deemed essential have been scheduled with the goal of ensuring maximum physical distancing and additional time between classes to provide time for one class to exit before the next enters. Buildings where instruction is happening and residence halls will be cleaned more frequently, and facemasks are required in all indoor common spaces and classrooms, and outside where adequate physical distance cannot be reasonably maintained.
Ongoing community testing requires individuals enrolled in the program to be eligible for testing each week, with an emphasis on those who come into greater contact with others, such as essential workers and students in on-campus or Greek housing. The goal is to test 1,000 people each week to help detect asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases so that the University can provide the proper support and help community members know to self-isolate and avoid getting others sick.
“The start of school in the midst of pandemic is an important and highly timely topic, and we are looking forward to doing a research study as part of the Seattle Flu Study to assist with safe reopening at the University of Washington,” said Dr. Helen Chu, associate professor in the UW School of Medicine, lead investigator of the Husky Coronavirus Testing program, and a principal investigator of the Seattle Flu Study.
Symptomatic testing outside of this study has and will continue to be available to all UW community members experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19. Community testing program participants will receive a daily text message asking about any symptoms. If they reply that they have symptoms or have been engaged in any high-risk situation (such as a non-physically distanced gathering), they can receive a test.
Finally, rapid response testing will be provided in the event that someone in a shared living or working environment receives a positive test. The team has the ability to quickly respond with broader surge testing for anyone in a group environment who may have come into contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, with the goal of stopping further spread.
“We are glad that the infrastructure that we developed for COVID-19 testing will be used to support the health and safety of the University of Washington community returning to campus,” said Jay Shendure, director of the Brotman Baty Institute, a lead investigator of the Husky Coronavirus Testing program, and a principal investigator of the Seattle Flu Study.
The broad community testing is being conducted as a research study conducted with the approval of UW Research’s Human Subjects Division.
“The health and safety of our community is paramount as we enter a fall quarter like no other,” Cauce said. “Together we can protect our pack by participating in testing, and by following the 3 Ws: Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Watch your distance.”