While coronavirus numbers drop at North Dakota colleges, more rapid testing could help next semester
Rapid tests could play a role in testing for universities next semester.
While total cases of coronavirus across North Dakota’s higher education system are significantly lower than they were prior to Thanksgiving, leaders in the system say they already are planning for the next semester.
Dr. Joshua Wynne, the dean of the UND medical school and the person leading the university system’s COVID-19 response, said the system and UND are headed in the “right direction” for now because people have been wearing masks, social distancing and taking other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. But, he said, there is still some concern about what numbers could look like next semester, when students return from holiday break.
“We are looking not simply to continue the testing we've already done, but we're strategizing on ways we can increase it further,” he said.
While nothing is confirmed, the North Dakota University System is working on getting more of the antigen, or rapid, tests for the campuses, Wynne said. UND was one of four higher education institutions in the state that were allotted a set of the rapid tests. North Dakota State, Dakota College at Bottineau and Minot State also received the tests.
“We are actively considering that now,” Wynne said. “No firm plans have been made. No decisions have been made. But we believe that, if we can augment the testing in January and for the spring semester, it will really help us to keep the numbers down as more people get vaccinated.”
UND has begun to use some of its BinaxNOW tests, which give results in about 15 minutes, Rosy Dub, director of UND student health, said.
At present, the rapid tests are not being used during mass testing events, Dub said. Instead the tests are used with student health services to test symptomatic students, in addition to a standard PCR test, she said.
“We're formulating a plan of how to roll out Binax testing for the faculty, students and staff that will be in place at the start of the spring semester,” she said.
Higher-ed institutions across the state have managed surges in cases on campus when they do occur, North Dakota University System Compliance Officer Karol Riedman said. The campuses all had quarantine and isolation plans in place, in addition to testing plans, she said.
“I think we've been really successful in trying to manage the communicability of disease on campus,” said Riedman, who has been helping to coordinate the system’s response to the pandemic and working with the NDUS COVID task force.
Riedman said that prior to Thanksgiving, the system had about 600 active cases of COVID-19 – the most it had had at one time. Now, that number is closer to 150 across the 11 institutions.
Steps taken by the North Dakota University System and the individual schools to mitigate spread also were important this semester. Without mask wearing and social distancing, in addition to quarantine and isolation protocols, campuses might not have been able to “stay open face to face,” she said.
“I think that has really made a big difference and makes us feel really positive that this can be (controlled). It’s why our campuses were able to stay open,” she said.
The system continued contact tracing throughout the semester, which helped with case management, according to Riedman.