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IU to introduce on-campus labs to process COVID-19 mitigation tests by mid-October



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Nursing students Jessica Gutierrez and Ericka Alvarez work at a COVID-19 testing center Aug. 18 near Memorial Stadium. IU will be replacing Vault Health, the company currently processing the university's mitigation testing, with new on-campus labs. Izzy Myszak

IU will use new on-campus labs to facilitate all of its mitigation testing efforts as early as mid-October, replacing Vault Health, the company located in New Jersey currently processing the university’s mitigation saliva tests.

The new on-campus labs will allow the university to increase the number of tests done per week and decrease the turnaround time for results while cutting costs, said Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU director of mitigation testing.

“The more you can reduce the time from testing to results, the better, because if you’re positive, we can shorten the time you’re out and about infecting people,” Carroll said.

Current mitigation testing has a turnaround time of approximately 48 to 72 hours. That timeframe is still good, Carroll said, but on-campus test processing would cause a significant improvement.

 “48 hours is still pretty good, but we can definitely do better,” Carroll said.

Carroll said his goal is to test every student one to two times per week once the new labs are functional.

Under the current testing process, the university samples a portion of all students to be tested since it is not yet feasible for the university to test each student every week. To compensate for this, the university tests groups that are perceived to be at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection at a higher rate, a process known as “upsampling,” Carroll said.

“The first week of testing, we basically only sampled students living in dorms or greek housing,” Carroll said. “Then, when we saw positivity rates, we proportionately sampled everybody and upsampled all of the dorms the second week and massively upsampled the greek houses because their rates were so much higher.”

The three on-campus labs are expected to be fully operational by mid-October, with one on the Bloomington campus and two operating at the IU School of Medicine campus in Indianapolis. The one located in Bloomington is an on-campus clinical lab that is being upgraded to process COVID-19 tests, while the two others will be repurposed research areas.

Students who have experienced delays in receiving their tests results said they feel the new on-campus labs will be a welcome improvement. IU freshman Safi Shore waited four days for her mitigation testing results from Vault Health.

“I think both myself and everyone I know will benefit from the new on-campus labs,” Shore said. “Right now, on Thursday, I’m still waiting for my random testing results from Monday. I know I don’t have too much to worry about, but having to wait for results is always nerve-wracking.”

Other students who haven’t recently been selected for testing hope the new labs will improve access. IU freshman Ellison Mills has only been tested once in her three and a half weeks on campus. She said she hopes the new on-campus labs will allow students like her to be tested more often.

“The new labs will definitely help to isolate more students that have no symptoms,” Mills said. “I think the time it takes to get results back right now is far from ideal. There’s such a gray area right now between when the test is taken and when results are provided.”

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