A distinct change from the fall to spring semester is the implementation of widespread COVID-19 testing. Once on campus, testing will need to become embedded in students’ weekly routines.
The Carolina Together Testing Program requires undergraduate and graduate students to participate in regular asymptomatic evaluation testing throughout the semester, while testing for faculty and staff is voluntary.
“What we're trying to do is make sure that the access is there, make sure that the availability is there and then also make sure that if you are tested and you're tested positive, we get to pull you out of the community to isolate so that you have the ability to protect other people and protect yourself,” said Dr. Amir Barzin, medical director at the Family Medicine Center in Chapel Hill who helped develop the testing program.
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Asymptomatic testing will be offered at three locations across campus: the CURRENT ArtSpace on Franklin Street, the Student Union and Rams Head Recreation Center. The Student Union will be open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. with the other two sites operating from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. All sites will be open Saturday, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., and are closed on Sundays.
Campus members who suspect they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms, should not visit one of these testing sites.
The testing centers will use anterior nares PCR based tests — a noninvasive nasal swab. Barzin said this test was chosen because it is highly accurate, with few false negatives and positives, and is a quick collection method that takes less than a minute.
Students will self-administer their own nasal swab while staff observe the collection. The test involves inserting and slowly rotating the same swab five times in each nostril. Barzin said it is easy to see when someone does this properly because the outside of their nose will move.
Barzin said the samples will be tested at the COVID-19 testing lab facility in Genome Sciences Building and that results will be available in less than 48 hours.
How often do I need to get tested?
Students must test twice a week if they take classes on-campus, live in a residence hall, Granville Towers or off-campus with 10 or more people.
Barzin said recent literature suggests this is the best testing frequency in high density settings to find and isolate cases to reduce the potential time of unknowing transmission of the virus.
Students must test once a week if they live off-campus in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, even if they are fully remote and do not access campus.
Barzin said this requirement comes from UNC's duty to keep the surrounding towns safe in addition to the University community.
Students in the mandatory testing categories are expected to be in compliance with testing requirements while all classes are held remotely to limit potential community spread, Kate Maroney, spokesperson for UNC Media Relations, said in an email.
Undergraduates living in Chapel Hill or Carrboro who are not currently accessing campus due to the delay of in-person classes will only need to be tested once a week at a Carolina Together Testing Center. However, if students are accessing campus, they will need to be tested twice a week, Maroney said.
Graduate, professional and post-doctoral students who will be on campus must test once a week. There is an exception for graduate students in programs where daily symptoms are monitored.
Remote graduate students living in Chapel Hill or Carrboro as well as faculty and staff who are accessing campus can voluntarily test once a week.
Barzin said the decision to make testing voluntary for faculty and staff came from background research that showed, across the country, this population was not having high rates of infectivity. Faculty and staff are required to complete daily symptom checking which Barzin said has been useful in identifying someone that could be potentially symptomatic.
Faculty and staff working remotely are not included in the testing program.
A primary component of the Carolina Together Testing Program is HallPass, a mobile-friendly, web-based application campus members need to use to make testing appointments and receive notifications about when their test results are ready to view as well as when it's time for their next test.
Steven King, chief innovation officer at UNC Reese Innovation Lab, said he and his team developed HallPass in 82 days starting in October, with it being designed fully by UNC students. King said HallPass was intentionally not made a downloadable mobile app so users are in control of all their data. HallPass follows all HIPAA and FERPA data protocols, King said.
King said the goal of HallPass is to help campus members know when they need to be tested and help them get tested as easily as possible.
"You need to do certain things to be compliant and be a good community member and this is kind of your hall pass to do that," King said.
The University has worked to make the testing process as fast and efficient as possible, Barzin said. He said the goal is to get individuals in and out of the testing centers in less than five minutes.
HallPass is intended to facilitate compliance in UNC's mandatory testing program. Maroney said in an email that failing to comply with the ongoing asymptomatic testing is a violation of the COVID-19 Community Standards that returning students were required to acknowledge as part of their enrollment.
HallPass will send notifications to alert students if they miss a testing window. Maroney said if a student fails to submit a test after an initial set of reminders, the non-compliance will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for further action under the Community Standards.
HallPass provides a streamlined interface for use at the testing locations. To use HallPass, campus members should:
- Login to hallpass.unc.edu and authenticate with their ONYEN.
- Confirm vital information including their phone number and address.
- Check when they are due to get a test.
- Find a location and reserve a time for testing. Reservations are available for one-hour windows, allowing arrival at any time during the window.
- Use HallPass to scan the barcode of the test kit once at the testing site.
- Login to view test results once HallPass sends a text message saying results are available.
- If one tests positive, the necessary information is shared with Campus Health.
- Login to HallPass at any time to see when another test is needed and to reserve a new appointment at a testing location. HallPass will send a text reminder when you're within 24 hours of needing a test.
Maroney said the Carolina Together Testing Program is one of the best ways the University can fight the spread of the virus as it allows cases to be identified quicker, limiting community spread.
Asymptomatic evaluation testing led the cluster at Carmichael Residence Hall announced Wednesday to be identified quicker than it would have been for a student to develop symptoms and get tested, Maroney said. She said this example demonstrates why it's critical for students to participate in the Carolina Together Testing Program as it allows the University to act quickly by moving students with positive results into isolation and identifying close contacts for quarantine.
Barzin said the University expects there to be COVID-19 cases, but the goal of the regular asymptomatic testing program is to decrease the total number of cases at UNC, limit the spread of the virus on campus and the surrounding towns and to complete a full semester on campus.
"We really thought about how can we do something that's effective, safe and makes people feel comfortable," Barzin said.
Repeated or continued non-compliance with the testing program may result in administrative and/or disciplinary action such as removal from campus housing, restricted on campus access and disenrollment from the University.