Volunteers Help Campus Community Get Tested For COVID-19
On two recent mornings at Lot 40 and Fan Field, School of Public Health Dean Shawn Gibbs spent several hours directing traffic, collecting saliva samples and walking university employees through the COVID-19 testing process required for individuals returning to campus.
He’s one of the many faculty, staff, students and administrators who have stepped up to help the university complete the important task of testing the campus community for COVID-19 this month before the start of the spring semester.
“You could be helping with sample collecting, wiping down tables or directing people to locations,” Gibbs said of his volunteering experience. “It’s a massive undertaking, but Texas A&M is up to the challenge.”
Assistant Professor Rebecca Fischer, the university’s chief epidemiologist for COVID-19 and co-director of the COVID Investigation Operations Center, said a team of 20 students was hired to perform testing, but this barely scratches the surface of the help needed to carry out the job. At the university’s two drive-thru testing locations alone, an estimated 1,000 people pass through each day.
“Volunteers are a huge, huge part of this, and in fact this undertaking would be impossible without volunteers,” Fischer said.
Ranging from students to staff members, deans and department heads, individuals from across campus have been busy directing traffic, registering people for testing, disinfecting surfaces and performing various other tasks. All of the testing environments are low-risk, she said, and volunteers wear masks and practice physical distancing at all times.
“Just the sheer number of people at our Texas A&M campus makes this a really big challenge, but it’s so important to be testing that these volunteers as well as the student workers we have hired are working tirelessly and are the only way we can pull this off,” Fischer said.
Tiffany A. Radcliff, the School of Public Health‘s associate dean for research, spent time on a recent afternoon at the Rec Center testing location making sure people understood the testing instructions, wiping down tables and more.
“There was a campus-wide call for volunteers, but of course in the School of Public Health we felt particularly motivated to make sure these testing sites are well staffed and running smoothly,” Radcliff said.
Texas A&M employees need to be tested for COVID-19 no later than Jan. 12. On campus, employees can be tested for free without an appointment at locations taking saliva for testing, or sites where scheduling is required, which are taking mouth swabs. Employees should register, complete a health survey and get tested on campus or at the healthcare provider or testing site of their choice.
All employees who expect to be on campus during Spring 2021 will have to be tested for COVID-19 prior to the spring semester, as well as students who reside on campus, who need to be tested before the end of the first week of classes. Aggies who live off campus do not have to be tested at this time, but are strongly encouraged to do so if they plan on attending in-person classes or visiting campus.
Testing is a necessary and important tool for keeping the campus community safe and healthy. Identifying, informing and isolating faculty, staff and students who are infected with the virus — many who do not even feel sick — facilititates contact tracing and reducing the spread. People who know they have the virus can take responsibility for preventing further transmission through self-isolation and preventative behaviors.
Testing helps to manage the expected surge in COVID-19 cases when Aggies return to campus. It also increases the likelihood of finishing the spring semester with in-person activities. However, if a test is negative and did not detect SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva specimen, one should not assume and act as though they are free of the virus.
No test is perfect, the experts said, and the risk of infection does not end after taking a test. All should continue to take preventive measures to protect themselves and others from SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious agents.
“We’re trying to find as many people who test positive as early in the semester as we can so it doesn’t continue to impact us throughout the semester as much,” Gibbs said. “After each time we’ve done an aggressive round of testing like this, we’ve seen a decrease of our subsequent numbers.”
Volunteers are still needed for testing Texas A7M students, which will be Jan. 12-22. Those interested in volunteering can register online or email the testing program at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about university guidelines, visit the COVID-19 guidance webpage.
Media contact: Caitlin Clark, email@example.com