Nearly 9,000 antigen tests in residence halls and up to 1,000 tests daily at Memorial Union and Union South have been distributed across campus from Jan. 18 to Jan. 24, according to university spokesperson Meredith McGlone.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced in December that it would begin offering at-home COVID-19 tests for the spring semester, distributing significant quantities of self-administered antigen tests in addition to maintaining their use of PCR testing.
“In terms of overall usage, our goal with the take-home tests is to provide an additional, complementary option to students and employees particularly during this period of increased cases,” McGlone said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal. “We’re measuring success not by whether we distribute a certain number of tests but by how we maintain overall campus testing capacity, including PCR testing.”
The university consolidated PCR testing to one site, University Club, at the intersection of State Street Mall and East Campus Mall as part of their testing capacity strategy. The PCR tests take 24 to 48 hours for results compared to the 15 minutes required of an antigen test. Capacity remains at 5,000 tests per week.
“We’re able to maintain that capacity and identical testing hours while staffing more efficiently by using a single location that is big enough to accommodate multiple testing lanes,” McGlone said.
According to McGlone, using antigen tests to identify cases at the start of spring semester helped stop the spread of the disease. In early January, UW-Madison recommended that all students take an antigen test before and after returning to Dane County, asides from those who received positive PCR test results within the last 90 days. Students in residence halls received antigen test kits upon spring semester move in, and students living off campus were encouraged to pick up test kits at sites at Memorial Union and Union South.
However, some students have voiced concerns with the university’s new reliance on rapid tests.
UW-Madison senior Eliza Cooper missed the first day of spring semester classes after contracting COVID-19 over winter break. After experiencing symptoms following travel during the holidays, she took three rapid tests that came back negative before taking a PCR test that confirmed she had COVID-19.
Cooper expressed concern over use of rapid tests as a predictor of COVID-19 in crowded school spaces, and said she hopes the university increases appointment availability for PCR testing.
“There was a five hour period between taking the last rapid negative test and getting my positive PCR test back, so we thought the PCR was definitely going to be negative, and then it was positive,” Cooper said. “I just don't trust them. I would rather have testing sites with either more hours or more places so that more people could get [PCR] tests without having appointments.”
COVID-19 antigen tests are available to UW-Madison students and employees at no cost with a limit of one test per week. They are available for pick up at Memorial Union and Union South from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.