By next week, UND may be receiving equipment to help with its coronavirus testing capacity.
UND President Andrew Armacost said the university is anticipating receiving a Panther testing machine from the North Dakota Department of Health to aid in targeted and backup testing on campus, so long as the equipment doesn’t get moved to a hotspot in another part of the country.
“We're trying to do our best to build local capacity,” Armacost said. “But I do have to emphasize the fact that the state has been extraordinarily supportive and generous in terms of statewide testing that they're doing.”
The university’s latest testing event, held Tuesday, Oct. 13, had nearly 1,600 individuals tested, he said.
The new COVID testing machine will have the capacity to perform 1,100 tests every 24 hours, but will mainly be used to quickly identify hotspots on campus. UND will continue with its typical scheduled COVID testing every Tuesday and every other Saturday through the end of November. Those tests will continue to be taken to the state lab in Bismarck, Armacost said.
“It'll be a capability that we're really looking forward to having on campus,” he said. “What this new machine will allow us to do is when we identify hotspots and need to do focused testing on short notice we can do that regularly.”
It’s another virus mitigation tool in the university's toolbox, UND spokesman David Dodds said.
The university also still needs to get the supplies that are necessary to actually conduct the tests.
UND purchased its own Panther testing machine this summer. That machine, which cost $135,000 and came out of UND’s operating budget, may arrive in mid-December, Armacost said. The machine’s arrival keeps shifting as other hotspots in the country need the resources.
The upcoming semester and flu season is also on the minds of UND leaders, Armacost said. He said there are constant discussions going on among the pandemic working group and the executive council -- a group that includes leaders from across campus -- about what the spring semester will look like. Those discussions will continue moving forward, especially around COVID testing and the options available to the university.
UND was selected by the health department last month to take part in a saliva testing pilot program, though those tests have yet to arrive on campus, Armacost said.
“The layout of the spring, whether it's how we offer our courses, or how we do things like testing and quarantine isolation, those are items that we talk about on a regular basis,” he said.
As COVID numbers trend upward across the state, Armacost said leaders at all 11 North Dakota University System institutions feel they are “continuing to set the example for a response within our local communities,” citing a meeting held Thursday of the system’s Smart Restart taskforce on COVID-19.
“We see great behaviors on our campuses,” he said. “We hope that models the behaviors that we would expect to see within the local communities, not just by our own students, faculty and staff, but by all citizens.”
One example is wearing a mask, which is required on North Dakota campuses. Armacost said he was encouraged after the mayors of North Dakota’s five largest cities -- Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot and West Fargo -- penned a letter highly encouraging masks among residents of their communities.
“I thought it was an unambiguous statement about the importance of mask wearing,” Armacost said.
The letter stopped short of a mask mandate, however. Armacost noted that each mayor is in charge of making policy, but he would like to see the people of Grand Forks take the recommendation seriously.
“I would love to make sure that all the citizens of Grand Forks and all the members of our community take their advice very seriously,” Armacost said. “When I go out and about, I would love to see 100% of the citizens of our campus always wearing masks when they're interacting with each other. It's a simple step that everyone can take.”