The University of Wisconsin-Madison plans to greatly increase its coronavirus testing capacity for the Spring 2021 semester by administering thousands of saliva-based tests every day, the university announced Thursday.
The UW has partnered with Shield T3, a research initiative at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, aimed to advance COVID-19 testing efforts by developing a saliva-based PCR diagnostic test. This saliva-based test is estimated to provide an additional 10,000 tests per day as needed.
The new test can also provide results in six to 12 hours, according to Shield T3’s website. UW’s current testing regime takes approximately 48 hours to return results.
"We are proud to partner with Shield T3 to offer additional and more frequent COVID-19 testing to our employees and students," Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a Nov. 5 media release. "We know that our testing has and will continue to play an important role in limiting disease spread."
With new guidelines in place for the Spring semester, all undergraduate students based in Madison will be required to get tested twice per week, and on-campus employees and graduate students are also required to “regularly” get tested.
"To date, our campus safety protocols have helped ensure COVID-19 has not spread in spaces like classrooms and laboratories," Provost Karl Scholz said in the release. "With increased testing and the ability to ensure our employees and students are getting tested regularly, we feel confident about our path forward for the spring semester."
The university got off to a rocky start with their COVID-19 response this semester, as new cases on campus soared and the positive test rate hit a seven-day average of 10.2 percent among students. After a two-week shut down in which in-person classes were cancelled and two residence halls quarantined, cases have held steady with a current seven-day average of 32.9 daily positive cases.
The Spring semester testing plans also include the addition of several more COVID-19 testing sites on campus, where saliva samples will be collected and tested for quick results, and the utilization of a mobile app to ensure that students who are using campus spaces are quickly and easily notified of their results.
"We know that testing is a powerful tool at our disposal for helping control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Executive Director of University Health Services Jake Baggott said in the release. "That said, we will continue to need everyone in our campus community to play their part: Wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, avoid gatherings with people you don't live with and wash your hands often."
The new Shield T3 testing initiative is the most recent effort by UW-Madison to expand testing on campus following Fall semester efforts, which since September have included added more testing facilities and expanded guidelines for food service employees and dorm residents.