COVID-19 testing protocol for students living off-campus has changed for the spring semester, as the Protect Purdue Health Center is now utilizing a rapid COVID-19 test.
“The switch from the RT-PCR test used for the fall semester to the rapid antigen test will help increase the speed at which students can receive their results,” said Kyle Hultgren, director of the Purdue Center for Medication Safety Advancement. The change also helps PPHC to more quickly identify students who may need to quarantine or self-isolate.
The RT-PCR test may be administered via nasal swab or saliva sample. The antigen test is also done using a nasal swab.
Students have been expected to self-administer the rapid test, which Hultgren said is part of the testing protocol. Students have the assistance of a testing center worker who explains how to administer the exam properly and safely.
“It’s not a self-guided tour, it’s professionally directed,” Hultgren said. “You do it yourself but you’re there one-on-one; someone directs you through this, makes sure that you provide an accurate sample.”
Ronald Mahan, a sophomore in the College of Pharmacy and a worker at the testing center, noted that one issue that can cause an invalid test is not blowing your nose well enough before taking it.
“If you have a bunch of excess (mucus) on the swab it will cause an invalid (result), and you’ll have to retest,” he said.
Mahan said that more than 2,000 students came through the testing center over the weekend, and that the center can handle 2,200 tests per day.
With more than 9,000 students already tested using this method, Hultgren hopes to employ the rapid test to examine as many off-campus students as possible while Purdue returns to session for the spring semester.
The goal is to test 20,000 students by Friday, a Purdue news release states. The overall positivity rate for those tested since Jan. 1 is 1.5% according to the PPHC COVID-19 dashboard. The seven-day positivity from Jan. 10 to Jan. 16 was only 1.01%.
While the rapid test produces results faster than the RT-PCR test, Hultgren doesn’t expect it to replace the latter test entirely.
“Our solution going forward, as Purdue President Mitch Daniels has been quoted saying many times, will be to include a mix (of tests),” Hultgren said. “Everything that we can do to provide a safe campus for students, faculty and staff is on the table and we’re going to evaluate them all.”
After self-administering the test, students are asked to wait 20-30 minutes to receive their results. If positive or inconclusive, they retake it, and if that second test is positive, they receive the RT-PCR test to confirm the result.
Hultgren said this is done to reduce the probability of false positives, and that the rapid test hasn’t been proven to be particularly erroneous.
“We have no reason to believe it’s better or worse than what we’ve seen in the past (with other tests),” Hultgren said.
If a student does test positive, the workers they previously interacted with are not necessarily at risk for infection. Hultgren compared the situation to a student testing positive in a classroom setting, which he said is a similarly set-up environment as the testing center; if everyone is wearing a mask and is following correct social-distancing procedures, then it isn’t a high-risk exposure.
“We had zero transmissions in classrooms,” Hultgren said. “Our surveillance testing center is just as safe as all of those.”