Campus News

Surveillance testing to begin next week


Published September 1, 2020

“Periodic, randomized, surveillance testing of a representative sample of asymptomatic students, faculty and staff provides an important metric of changes in prevalence of COVID-19 within the UB community. ”
Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

As part of the next step in the university’s Health and Safety Guidelines, UB will soon begin random COVID-19 surveillance testing of students, faculty and staff using their saliva.

“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,” said Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences, dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and chair of the committee overseeing UB’s Health and Safety Guidelines.

“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,” Cain said.

According to Cain, UB’s surveillance testing will be centered on stratified random sampling of three groups of people at UB, each of which have differing degrees and types of in-person interaction on UB’s campuses:

  • Students residing in campus housing or in nearby privately owned, multi-resident apartment complexes. Also included in this group are students who eat in communal dining facilities and/or are heavily involved in on-campus activities.
  • Students who live in the Buffalo area and whose only participation with the university community is taking in-person classes during the fall semester.
  • UB faculty and staff.

Multiple rounds of scheduled randomized testing will take place at regular intervals (weekly, biweekly or monthly) beginning next week. Testing sites are being set up on the North, South and Downtown campuses.

During each round of testing, 279 individuals from each stratified group will be randomly sampled, for an overall total of 837 across the three groups.

Individuals who do not have on-campus, in-person interactions during the fall semester in its entirety — for example, students, faculty and/or staff who are fully remote — will be excluded from the study population because they would not directly contribute to the spread of COVID-19 on UB’s campuses.

Approved by the New York State Department of Health for use by SUNY institutions, the testing procedure developed by Upstate Medical Center will use saliva samples, pooled in batches of 12.

The pooled testing allows for 12 people to be screened in one test. The testing will be done using saliva, rather than by swabs that are inserted into a patient’s nose. Individuals administer the tests themselves, swabbing their mouths for 10 or 15 seconds each, and providing the saliva samples to medical personnel. 

Their samples are combined into one, which is tested for coronavirus. A negative test means that all 12 people in the group are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free.

A positive test for the pool would trigger additional testing of each person in that group, using a portion of their salvia retained from the original sample. Results from this second testing of a positive pool will be processed in two to three days, and individuals will be instructed to quarantine while awaiting the results of the second test. Individuals who test positive will be required to isolate.”

This surveillance testing program aims to better serve the public health mission to reduce transmission of COVID-19. While students, faculty and staff may opt out, participation is strongly encouraged.

“Periodic, randomized, surveillance testing of a representative sample of asymptomatic students, faculty and staff provides an important metric of changes in prevalence of COVID-19 within the UB community,” Cain said.


I would love to participate in the pool testing for COVID. My supervisor has me back on campus Monday through Friday. If I can be tested I would feel more comfortable with the arrangements.

Thomas Andersen

If I was pool tested on Friday, Sept. 4, when should I be expecting my results?

Megan McGovern

Is this mandatory? Can UB require students to do this? It seems like an intrusion into our privacy. Can a student opt out without ramifications? What happens if a student refuses?

Do students with disabilities have any right to refuse participation? I have a disability and I need extra time to complete my work. School takes virtually all my time. If the COVID19 testing is time-consuming, it will take away from my time to get my work done.

I live far off campus in a low population area (Elma, NY) in a single-family residence. There is very little to no COVID-19 in my area. I only commute to UB once per week for one class, which is held only on one day of the week with only about 30 students in a very large classroom with masks. Much of that class is held outdoors (EVS315). Can I petition to be exempted because I don't come from a high-risk situation and because my contact with campus is very minimal?

Finally, if I am called, can I go get my own test first and, if I am negative, avoid being quarantined while waiting for further results if a sample of 12 students is positive?

Thank you.

Vanessa Neff

Are we able to request a test? If not, will testing on campus be available soon?

Kyra Katz

This idea of combining tests into one is not good. Meaning if one fails, the whole group is penalized. That is not right. It should be done individually not as a group. So, forget asking me. I gracefully decline this test.

David Horbinski

If I live in an off-campus apartment but very close to UB, such as University Village at Sweethome, do I need to be tested?

Steven Wen

I believe this is a good way to get a sampling of who may or may not be infected, especially those who are asymptomatic. However, it wasn't clear who is paying for this test. I would assume UB or Upstate Medical. Please confirm, as I have already gotten a COVID test in late May (was negative) before I went on vacation out of town and my insurance was charged. Not sure if they would keep paying for COVID tests. Thank you!

Lisa Monpere-Cruz

Have you thought of wastewater testing of sewage samples? Perhaps at least in the dorms and apartment complexes. Good article in today's Chronicle.

Carol Tutzauer

I think this is a great idea!

Julia Borkowski

I know it's random, but can someone volunteer to be tested?

Kevin Hartman

Will my I be included in the sample pool if I live in an off-campus complex, but have no in-person classes? If so, how do you know to include me if my address is not registered with the school?

Ari Kelhoffer

279 people. 12 people per test. 279/12=23.25 tests

Why not test pools that are multiples of 12? How was the number 279 arrived at?

Susan Udin

Will the testing sites be willing to do testing by request as well, or are they only for the randomized surveillance testing?

Kaleb Friedman

I think this sounds great. I just wanted to say we really should also be enforcing the mask wearing more!! I feel like I see way too many people not wearing masks correctly or walking in groups without masks! It's not comforting to see, especially with bigger groups. Sometimes I even see adults walking around campus without any masks at all! I thought masks were supposed to be mandatory, and I think that strictly enforcing mask-wearing everywhere on campus is the only way to make sure we can stay here as long as possible. Please try to do better with masks. Thanks! 

Lily Stein

Thank you. Surveillance testing will help mitigate COVID cases at UB.

Philip L Glick

If an individual has a negative test result, can they be excluded from random testing? My concern is the potential number of individuals who could be quarantined that do not have COVID. It seems that pooling 12 samples with individuals who have no professional relationship to each other will not help determine anything. Please consider the following:

Why quarantine "11" when the issue may be with "1?"

If an employee is required to quarantine, who is paying their salary?  

Is this UB or all SUNY campuses, all state offices?

Will non-UB individuals who "pass through" UB buildings to get to/from their job (Medical Campus and linked buildings) be subject to the testing? What about the staff that works at Tim Hortons/Starbucks who are on campus every day?

What happens if someone declines to be tested? Sorry if I missed it, but is there a new policy, an update to a current policy?

This sampling does not appear to take into account any visitors. I am more concerned about visitors than co-workers. Sounds like you are forcing us to get tested on our own or submit to this new pool testing process. Did UB do something similar during the AIDS epidemic?

Mary Lou Conroy