CDC studying UW-Oshkosh’s use of COVID-19 antigen testing

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 5:24 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is taking a closer look at UW-Oshkosh, assessing the school’s use of antigen testing.

“We’ve been really successful in doing this, and one of the ways we’re successful is we do a lot of it,” said UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt.

UWO has been using antigen testing, or rapid testing, in partnership with Prevea Health to track and manage COVID-19 cases on campus.

“We’ve been analyzing up to around 430 samples a day since the beginning of the year,” said Director of Risk and Safety Kimberly Langolf.

Director of Risk and Safety Kimberly Langolf says antigen testing can get a result in 15 minutes, with students living on campus tested once a week. Off-campus students make up about a quarter of the testing.

“Our goal is to identify those asymptomatic carriers, and symptomatic for that matter, and get them isolated and quarantined as quickly as possible,” said Langolf.

Back when the Fall semester started UWO saw around a 17 percent positive test rate. Now the daily rate of positives is around 3.5 percent.

“We did have a surge; we were able to navigate partly through the analysis of the daily data we were generating from test results,” said Leavitt. “We were able to detect pockets if you will of the virus in certain residents halls, invite the entire floor in to be tested, and again pull those students out who were testing positive.”

Leavitt says any student that needs to be quarantined is able to attend class online.

An additional PCR (polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic test is also given to confirm a positive COVID-19 antigen test result, but those take a few days to complete.

This month the CDC is monitoring UWO to compare the accuracy of the antigen test to the PCR test.

“If we’re able to test thousands of people a week, that really gives us an advantage to identify those carriers,” said Langoff. “Even if we do get some false positives we are still confirming those and at least we know. But really testing more is better, and more quickly.”

So far, it’s worked well for the university, and there’s excitement over what the CDC could learn about antigen testing.

“Because we were doing so much testing using the antigen they wanted to further validate that and hopefully that this could be a tool for other universities and campuses to use. It was a really good feeling,” said Langoff. “Now that our numbers are going tremendously low this last week and a half, we’re assured that what we’re doing is working and we want to share that with as many people as we can.”

Aside from monitoring and preventing surges of COVID-19, the consistent testing also gives the school an idea of how the virus is spreading. Some campus practices have already changed as a result - such as ending all indoor campus dining.

“Students will pick up their food and then leave with it. We were finding that the numbers were moving up partly because students were unmasking and coming together in groups and eating, and that was a real problem,” said Leavitt. “So that’s a change we made to make the numbers go down.”

Leavitt and Langoff are both confident in the future of the school year with their current prevention practices.

“We think we can manage these surges as they come, and as a result we’ll be in face-to-face classes for the remainder of this semester and certainly we’ll open in spring the same way,” said Leavitt.

Leavitt says they are willing to work with the surrounding community as well, to get numbers down off-campus, too.

“I really think we have some things to offer, insights, because of the way we’ve worked through a pretty significant spike,” said Leavitt. “So I know we’ll work well with the local community to get the numbers down everywhere.”

“What we are doing is working, and we want to share that knowledge and support those who are struggling right now,” said Langoff.

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