Purdue has ramped up its surveillance testing of congregate housing after observing the majority of COVID-19 spread within group settings last semester, and is preparing to become a vaccine distribution center, officials say.
The decision to increase surveillance testing in the spring semester was driven by what the University learned in the fall and the different situation the country now faces, Dr. Esteban Ramirez, chief medical officer for the Protect Purdue Health Center, said in a news release.
“We have a greater scientific understanding of COVID-19, yet locally and nationally we face a surge in cases, additional time spent indoors in these colder months and new variants of the virus that have emerged," Ramirez said.
"It is critical that we utilize everything we have learned and every tool we have to Protect Purdue," he added, "particularly our most vulnerable, as more and more individuals gain access to the vaccine.”
The plan is to increase testing among Fraternity, Sorority and Cooperative Life organizations due to the exacerbated spread that can occur in communal-living environments.
The website says FSCL groups accounted for a significant share of student cases in the fall.
The plan will additionally include testing 10% of undergraduate, graduate and professional students randomly each week throughout the semester. Protect Purdue is also adding weekly random surveillance testing for 10% of all faculty who spend over half of their time on campus.
Staff designated as critical to the operations of the university, such as police, fire, medical, utility operators and others, will be tested weekly, the release states.
"In addition to this defined strategy, contact tracing, data and insights will be utilized to supplement routine surveillance testing with targeted testing in any potential hot spots on an as-needed basis," the release said.
Purdue has performed nearly 34,000 COVID-19 tests to date with more than 97% of students testing negative for the virus.
This influx of testing is expected to lower Tippecanoe County's seven-day positivity rate, which measures the percentage of all COVID-19 tests that return positive results, because the volume of tests in the county will increase dramatically.
"This alone should not be confused with a true subsiding of the virus’s prevalence," the release said. "A very high COVID-19 positivity rate and extensive community spread are still a reality, and all due caution and vigilance in containing the spread of the virus should continue to be exercised."
Vaccinations on campus
Purdue's COVID-19 vaccine allocation task force is actively preparing for the University to become a vaccine distribution site and aid in local vaccination efforts on campus as soon as supply is made available by the Indiana State Department of Health, according to a second press release.
"The timeline for additional phases of vaccine eligibility and administration is yet to be determined or communicated by the state of Indiana," the release said. "Once these details are decided, they will be communicated to help people plan how they can get their vaccination."
For now, those eligible for the vaccine include:
- First responders including fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services, reservists and volunteers who have in-person contact with the public.
- Licensed and unlicensed health-care workers who have in-person contact with patients or infectious material in any health care setting.
- Individuals who are 70 years of age or older as of Jan. 13.
Updates on vaccine eligibility will be posted on the Protect Purdue website.
Purdue is one of five organizations representing the Higher Education community in Indiana's COVID-19 vaccination plan. The others are Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame, Ball State University and the group Independent Colleges of Indiana.
Indiana designates college students as a critical population. College students and people who work in educational settings are included in the category of "People at Increased Risk of Acquiring or Transmitting COVID-19."
Indiana's COVID-19 plan estimates 321,517 people are attending colleges and universities, and 258,309 people work in educational settings.
These populations will be vaccinated either in Phase 2 or Phase 3 of the state's plan. The second phase aims to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by testing people who are "at elevated risk of transmission of the disease because of working or living circumstances," and the final phase aims for general vaccination of the public.