IU announced Wednesday its own COVID-19 testing labs are in the final stages of fully opening and greatly increasing mitigation testing on campus.
IU had been sending mitigation tests to Vault labs in New Jersey, which incurred an extra cost and turnaround time. Now, with on-campus labs in Bloomington, IU-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU Health, school medical officials say the labs will allow for more tests per day with an ultimate goal of 15,000 daily tests.
Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU’s director of mitigation testing, said Wednesday while 15,000 tests may be the goal, it will more realistically be 5,000 tests per day at first. Carroll said 5,000 daily tests would largely not change IU’s current infrastructure and not require extra shifts for lab workers. If 5,000 daily tests proves to not be enough, Carroll said he would raise that total. Conversely, he also said he would consider lowering the total if 5,000 tests is “overkill.”
“We will see how well it does in holding the line and keeping campus safe,” Carroll said in his Oct. 21 webinar.
While more tests will be conducted, costs will be dramatically cut and test results may come back in 24 hours, compared to 48 to72 hours previously.
“Having the ability to run these tests here allows us to spot any trends or potential outbreaks and take appropriate public health actions in a much more timely manner," Carroll said in IU’s press release.
IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said the labs are doing test runs this week to prepare for fully opening. The labs could finish test runs and fully open as soon as next week, Carney said.
Students living in residential halls or greek houses have already been receiving weekly, or close to weekly testing, Carroll said. So the labs opening will have the biggest influence on off-campus students, of which only around 1,000-1,500 have been receiving mitigation tests each week to this point.
The mitigation testing procedure will remain mostly unchanged. Students will now register for their test upon selection through IU instead of Vault. The testing sites — Franklin Hall and Memorial Stadium — will remain the same.
The same saliva tests that have been used in mitigation testing all semester will continue to be used. Though Carroll said Wednesday less saliva may be required for each tube.
The labs will focus on conducting mitigation testing, and while IU does not currently offer on-demand — or rapid — testing, Carroll said in a Oct. 21 webinar that is something he has considered and may become a reality at some point.
Opening the labs provides IU the capability to conduct the on-departure testing it plans before Thanksgiving, as well as decrease large costs and response times for on-arrival testing in February.
Carroll also said he anticipates large-scale mitigation testing when students return in the spring. The logistics for the on-arrival testing and increased spring semester testing are still being planned. Given the rate at which new cases arose at the beginning of the fall semester, Carroll believes the increased testing in the spring could prevent such an outbreak, or at least contain it.
“I think it will look like it does right now,” Carroll said of the spring semester. “Our hope is that we’ll be able to have even more in person.”
This story was updated at 3:05 p.m. Thursday to provide more clarity on the timeline for the labs fully opening.