Lawrence continues its academic year in Winter 2021 in the face of COVID-19. According to the Lawrence COVID-19 Dashboard, during the first week, 1,222 tests were administered, and 11 cases were positive (0.90% positivity rate). In addition, the Pandemic Planning Team implemented some changes to the COVID-19 protocols.
Following the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) guidelines, the Pandemic Planning Team has implemented some new changes to the quarantine procedure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DHS have provided guidance to lessen days in quarantine from 14 days to 10 days if no symptoms arise; both the CDC and DHS still recommend a full 14-day quarantine if possible.
However, according to the Pandemic Planning Team, students in quarantine have the option to take a COVID-19 test on or after the sixth day of quarantine. If the results are negative and students have exhibited no symptoms, they may leave quarantine after receiving the testing result. If students choose not to take the COVID-19 test on or after the sixth day of quarantine, they continue to quarantine.
“What we know is that the majority of virus shed happens during the first five days of infection with significantly less shedding thereafter,” said Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Cristyn Abaray. Abaray serves as the head of the Pandemic Planning Team. “We adhere to the Appleton Health Department rules and regulations, and the Appleton Health Department adheres to the Wisconsin Department of Health. So we are following the suggestions from the Wisconsin Department of Health.”
Another implemented change was the shift in the COVID-19 testing method. Starting at the beginning of Winter Term, Lawrence switched its partner company from Lab Corp to GINKGO, leading to a change from a nasal swab test to a saliva test. There were members of the community that had an uncomfortable experience with a nasal swab, said Abaray, and the saliva test is easier and faster to collect through self-administered procedures than waiting in line for medical personnel.
Based on an anonymous survey of 70 Lawrence students regarding their opinions on the change in testing methods, 60 percent said they prefer the nasal swab to the saliva test, as opposed to 36 percent who prefer the saliva test. Additionally, 85 percent of the students expressed feeling positive or neutral towards nasal swabs, compared to 60 percent of the students who are positive or neutral towards the saliva test. Note that three responses were ommitted from the results of this survey due to repeated responses and irrelevant information.
Some students also shared their personal opinions about the testing methods in the survey. Students complimented the convenience, better experience and additional student employment opportunities provided by the saliva test. On the other hand, concerns regarding potential transmission between enclosed spaces during sampling and the saliva test’s accuracy were raised.
Associate Professor of Biology Kimberly Dickson confirmed the accuracy of the saliva test. The nasal swab test and the saliva test both use qPCR, the most sensitive and robust method for detecting the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — the virus that causes COVID-19, Dickson said.
According to Dickson, the saliva test marketed by GINKGO is 100 percent in agreement for both positive and negative SARS-CoV-2 samples compared to the nasal swab. In addition, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the saliva test has been approved for use under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
“It is still early in the process,” Dickson said, “… [we are still] getting the rhythm of this.” The Pandemic Planning Team examined the saliva testing system in December 2020, and the results were delivered in less than 48 hours. According to Dickson, the team concluded that the GINKGO and Concentric partnership would generate reliable results in two to four days.
If students have not received their results or have any questions or concerns, they can always contact the Pandemic Planning Team at firstname.lastname@example.org, Abaray said.
While the Pandemic Planning Team continues to face the forthcoming challenges, Abaray encourages the student body to continue following the pledge: “It takes all of us to make it possible for any one of us to be on campus and be able to have any … in-person activities. So, stay diligent to the pledge and pay attention to each other … and ask me questions!”