During the fall, Hampshire was one of the safest campuses in the country, with only six COVID-19 cases among our students and a positivity rate far below that of the local community.
During the fall semester, Hampshire repurposed the Robert Crown Center as a testing center for asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. Every other week, all students and those faculty and staff members working on campus in close proximity with others participated in the testing program. The College also provided symptomatic tests at our on-campus clinic. Hampshire’s Director of Health Services Sara Aierstuck coordinated these efforts with a testing team led by Dean of Students Zauyah Waite and the Broad Institute’s Clinical Research Sequencing Platform Safe for School Program.
Between August 10 and December 1, 5,571 tests were completed, garnering six positive results, a rate of 0.11% infection. Asymptomatic PCR viral assay tests, self-administered under observation with a quick and easy nasal swab, accounted for 5,459 of those tests, which caught four cases, an overall positivity rate of 0.07%. Symptomatic tests performed totaled 112, with 2 positive results, a rate of 1.8%. Weekly updates were posted on a website dashboard. Students who tested positive were quickly isolated, and their close contacts – determined through contact tracing – were quarantined.
The campus community received regular reminders throughout the semester that testing is not a substitute for behaviors that prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and to always wear a face covering, maintain physical distancing, screen themselves daily for symptoms, and follow the practices outlined in our Community Care Agreement. At the end of the semester, all students were offered tests before leaving campus for winter break.
In November, Aierstuck was invited by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to participate in a webinar about testing strategies on college campuses. She was the only health services director on a panel that included administrators and professors of epidemiology from Morgan State University, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Illinois. The panel reported on a cross section of what was happening at colleges and universities across the country by representing urban and rural settings, a variety of testing methodologies, and impacts on surrounding communities.
Along with three other related panels, a synthesis of all findings, “COVID-19 Testing Strategies for Colleges and Universities,” was released by the NASEM’s National Academies Press. Hampshire’s program appears on pages 18 and 19.
Our approach was based on an extensive review of guidelines and recommendations from a variety of public-health and higher-education organizations and expert panels. Based on new guidelines, Hampshire will be testing the same groups weekly during the spring semester, a move Aierstuck reports the College is well-positioned to make.