UB to begin COVID surveillance testing next week

Decision comes after community calls for UB to administer regular testing

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With pressure mounting, UB announced Tuesday that it will begin random COVID-19 surveillance testing next week.

The testing will be centered on three groups of students and faculty members — students living on-campus or in nearby buildings, students living off-campus but taking in-person classes, and faculty and staff members. Only students who do not have any on-campus interactions will be excluded from the testing.

In a statement posted to the university’s website, Michael E. Cain, UB vice president for health sciences, said that testing sites are being constructed on all three campuses.

“The university’s working group on testing and surveillance has been closely monitoring the sensitivity, specificity and availability of COVID-19 tests, as well as the prevalence of the virus in Western New York,” Cain said. “Partnering with Upstate Medical Center, we are implementing a program of randomized surveillance testing at UB that will help the university further monitor and respond to the prevalence of COVID-19.”

UB will conduct “multiple rounds” of testing at regular intervals. During each round, 279 people from each of the three groups — for a total of 837 individuals — will be tested. Individuals’ tests will then be placed in a batch of 12 tests. If the test comes up negative, all individuals in the batch are presumed to be COVID-19-free. If the test comes up positive, all 12 individuals would be tested a second time and be instructed to quarantine for two-to-three days.

Testing will be self-administered and use saliva, instead of swabbing the nose.

The decision to begin randomized surveillance testing was praised by the Buffalo Center Chapter of the United University Professions, a higher education union representing UB faculty. The union had been pressuring the school to administer these tests.

“[This is] very, very good news,” statewide UUP president Fred Kowal said in a statement. “In my conversation with the new Chancellor (Jim Malatras), he expressed thanks for our collective efforts in pressuring campus to presidents to take this necessary step. And I know that he has pressed hard on UB to comply with this demand.”

On Sunday, Phil L. Glick, president of UB’s UUP, published a column in The Buffalo News advocating for surveillance testing.

“…My biggest concern is UB administration’s adamant refusal to add baseline and surveillance Covid testing to their plan,” Glick wrote. “They have argued that voluntary quarantining for locals and state-mandated 14-day quarantining for those returning from Covid ‘hot spots’ will be sufficient to detect all Covid-positive individuals and baseline and surveillance testing would not be a reasonable use of limited Covid testing supplies and financial resources.”

In a blog post, the UB Living Stipend Movement also called for “free access to COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty and staff.”

Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at justin.weiss@ubspectrum.com 

JUSTIN WEISS


Justin Weiss is the senior features editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or doing both at the same time. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald.