Campus News

What to expect if you’re selected for surveillance testing

A student checks in for surveillance testing.

A student checks in for surveillance testing. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published October 2, 2020

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“Testing is part of our UB plan to keep our community safe. ”
Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean
School of Public Health and Health Professions

Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 9, 2020, with new surveillance testing numbers

As UB conducts surveillance testing for COVID-19, members of the campus community may be wondering what they can expect if they’re selected to take part.

The program, which began in early September, focuses on testing people who are asymptomatic, meaning that they are not showing symptoms of disease. This helps the university monitor trends in the prevalence of COVID-19 and make timely decisions on interventions.

As of Oct. 8, UB has tested 3,525 students, faculty and staff through UB’s surveillance testing program, with only six positive results, all students.

(Cases discovered through the surveillance testing program represent only a small percentage of the total COVID-19 cases identified at UB; for data on all cases reported among members of the UB community, visit UB’s COVID-19 Dashboard.)

The procedure for surveillance testing involves collecting saliva using a cotton swab placed in the mouth and, so far, “both students and employees are continuing to give us feedback that the sampling is easy and quick,” says Joseph Raab, director of Environment, Health and Safety.

Students, faculty and staff selected for surveillance testing will receive an email requesting their participation, with a link for pre-registering online. For those who have trouble completing the registration, staff can help on site at testing locations, Raab says.

Participants should not brush their teeth or use mouthwash within three hours of their test. In the 30 minutes before their test, they should also refrain from eating or drinking anything — including chewing gum, mints or lozenges — and refrain from smoking, vaping or using smokeless tobacco products.

The saliva collection process is simple and fast: At test sites on UB’s campuses, staff provide participants with a test kit that includes a saliva collection swab and test tube filled with solution. Tests are self-administered and require a short, 10-15 second swab around the mouth, between the gums and under the tongue. Watch a video that demonstrates the procedure.

After that, trained staff “pool” participants’ saliva samples, a process that involves combining 12 saliva samples into a single sample, which increases the efficiency of testing.

Pooled samples are then tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

A negative test means that all 12 people in each pool are presumed to be coronavirus-free (negative) at the time of the test. Of note, even when results come back negative, students, faculty and staff must continue to follow UB’s Health and Safety Guidelines.

A positive test for the pool would trigger additional testing of each individual person’s sample from that group. This can be done using a portion of their saliva retained from the original sample. Individuals may be instructed to quarantine themselves while awaiting the results of the second test. Those people who are confirmed to be positive will be informed and required to isolate.

In addition to randomly generated invitations for sampling, UB has begun to do some supplemental sampling of certain employee groups who tend to have more frequent interactions with other employees, students or the public, Raab says. Students may also be selected for supplemental testing within certain housing locations and in certain study programs. While participants may be chosen for sampling multiple times over the semester, they will only need to register online once; for subsequent tests, individuals only need to log back in and choose the option of an additional test, Raab says.

For students and most employees called upon for surveillance testing, participation is now mandatory. A high level of participation is important as part of UB’s efforts to protect the health of the UB community and the university’s neighbors in Western New York.

“We understand this is a very challenging time for everyone, so we are very appreciative of the students and employees who participate in surveillance testing, especially those who may need to quarantine or isolate as a result,” says Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Testing is part of our UB plan to keep our community safe. In addition to testing, adhering to proven safety guidelines, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, hand washing and symptom monitoring and reporting, are essential to protect the health of the community and prevent spread of the virus.”