The University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) latest announcement regarding plans for the fall semester is a comprehensive program for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
On July 23, UNH Chief of Police Paul Dean and Senior Vice Provost for Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach Marian McCord announced the plans in an email to students, faculty, and staff. Together, Dean and McCord co-chair the UNH Testing and Tracing Committee, which formed in preparation for the fall semester.
“The UNH testing and tracing program is a collaborative public/private effort between our amazing faculty and staff in partnership with the State of NH and commercial medical providers. This collaborative approach allows UNH to achieve the best possible outcome for a successful testing program,” said Dean in an email with The New Hampshire.
UNH students, faculty, and staff will be tested before returning to campus, upon arrival during the week of Aug. 24, and then regularly throughout the semester. “We are building one of the most comprehensive testing programs of any university in the nation—we believe this will help us improve the health and safety for everyone.”
“As top tier research institution, UNH has relationships with national suppliers. These relationships allow UNH to maximize efforts to acquire the needed resources and standup a state of the art testing lab,” wrote Dean.
The first step of the program is the “pre-semester testing” that students who plan to be on campus will complete prior to arrival. UNH, in partnership with ConvenientMD and Quest, is providing this COVID-19 testing for free to students. There will be multiple options for location and modality to accommodate students of different areas and needs. Testing will be available as a drive-through on each campus, at selected locations around New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, and there will also be other options for students living outside these areas including mail-in testing kits or testing at one of Quest’s test centers or partner labs across the country.
Students must be tested for COVID-19 no earlier than eight days before arriving on campus. In an effort to address concerns of the extended waiting time for test results that has been reported throughout the country, UNH has “received a commitment from ConvenientMD and Quest that test results will be available for UNH students within 3-5 days after they receive the sample.” The results will then be sent directly to the student and university. Students who test positive are required to remain at home until they are cleared to return to campus. All diagnostic test results, both from the university’s lab and any external partners, will be managed confidentially, in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Both positive and negative COVID-19 tests will be reported to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS), who will then perform contact tracing.
Additionally, UNH is working to develop a “state-of-the-art testing lab and COVID-19 screening program that will serve all students, faculty and staff in Durham, Manchester and Concord.” This lab will be in operation in time for the arrival of students to campus. Testing at this lab for students, faculty, and staff will begin Aug. 24.
The lab will use a “real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction” (RT-PCR) test similar to that used by the DHHS. This will require regular screening of the entire university community “with students as often as twice per week in the first few weeks.” People will be required to swab their noses, using a nasal swab, and then drop off these samples in secure locations at designated times.
In terms of contact tracing, UNH will work in conjunction with the NH DHHS. Details of this plan can be found here. The email states that UNH students should have a plan for potential quarantine or isolation before arrival to campus. Such spaces are available on Durham’s campus, should students need.
Students who may be infected with COVID-19 will be contacted by UNH Health & Wellness, and called in for an evaluation. Students who have COVID-19 symptoms should also contact Health & Wellness immediately. Close contacts, defined as roommates and other individuals who have been within 6 ft. for a period of 10 min. or longer” will be identified by trained personnel and will be expected to quarantine for 14 days following exposure to the positive case.
More information on pre-arrival testing will be sent out soon. “Student behavior and compliance is absolutely essential for a successful in person campus experience. Students who don’t comply face losing their privilege to be on campus for the semester,” said Dean.