August 4, 2020
Dear UT Community,
We are writing you today to share the university’s comprehensive testing strategy for COVID-19 during the fall semester, which is only a few weeks away. Robust and rigorous testing will be needed to monitor and limit the presence of COVID-19 on our campus and keep our community members as safe as possible as we continue to navigate the pandemic. Here are some of the key elements of our strategy:
We have a goal of proactively testing up to 5,000 UT community members each week for COVID-19 using a strategic, scientific-based approach.
We will rely heavily on our in-house testing capabilities, leveraging the world-class expertise of UT faculty and staff members from across the university. By developing our capacity in house, we are shielded — to a substantial degree — from fluctuations in demand that can limit the available capacity of commercial labs serving the broader community.
We will have the capacity to test hundreds of symptomatic students each day using in-house labs. Additionally, we have ordered three rapid testing machines that will allow for approximately 100 tests per day with a 15-minute turnaround time for results.
Participation in all COVID-19 testing and contact tracing is completely voluntary, but we strongly encourage our community members to use these services as needed.
Working in collaboration with epidemiologists, infectious disease experts and other health care professionals, our strategic approach to COVID-19 testing consists of three components: testing for individuals who are ill, contact tracing and proactive community testing.
Testing for individuals who are ill
The university anticipates that several hundred tests could be needed daily for individuals who might have signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
If you are a UT student exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, you will be able to schedule a test with University Health Services.
If you are a UT faculty or staff member exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, you will be able to schedule a test with UT Health Austin. You can also arrange a test with the health care provider of your choice.
As mentioned above, University Health Services (UHS) has the capacity to test hundreds of symptomatic students each day using its in-house lab. We have also ordered three rapid testing machines that will allow for approximately 100 tests per day with a 15-minute turnaround time for results. This enables faster contact tracing and decreases unnecessary self-isolation. We are also contracting with commercial labs to add additional back-up capacity.
UHS and UT Health Austin (UTHA) will bill an individual’s insurance plan for this clinical testing, and most insurance plans, including the UT Select employee insurance plan and the Academic Blue student health insurance plan, fully cover the cost of testing for symptomatic individuals.
For uninsured students tested at UHS, the university is subsidizing the costs for the tests so there is no out-of-pocket expense. For employees who are uninsured, UTHA will explore the use of federal programs, if available, to help cover the cost.
If a faculty or staff member has symptoms or is being tested for COVID-19, he or she should report that result to the Occupational Health Program. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 at a testing facility that is not UHS, we recommend that student share this information with UHS. Confidentiality will be maintained.
Contact Tracing (exposed individuals)
The university, through an agreement between Dell Medical School and Austin Public Health, will continue to conduct contact tracing for university community members who test positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying individuals who have been in close contact with those who test positive and recommending they quarantine and also get tested. We have a robust team of experienced contact tracers on hand to identify and test close contacts in a timely manner.
Proactive Community Testing
The UT Proactive Community Testing Program is a critical aspect of our public health strategy. It will help us monitor the spread of infection within the campus community, specific campus populations and identified areas of higher risk based on real-time feedback from our contact tracing team. Proactive Community Testing is designated for asymptomatic individuals. As mentioned above, community members who have symptoms should secure testing through UHS or UTHA.
Proactive Community Testing is done at no cost to individuals being tested, who will be notified directly if they test positive. The university follows privacy requirements consistent with public health reporting and contact tracing guidelines. Results are confidential, and departments and supervisors will not be notified.
The university will identify and reach out to individuals and groups to participate in voluntary, proactive testing and is not currently accepting individual requests to participate.
Our goal is to test up to 5,000 UT community members each week using a strategic, scientific-based approach. This includes:
Extended network testing to deter outbreaks, such as testing a wing of a residence hall or all members of a student organization who may have been at risk for exposure. This allows us to cast a wider net than simply testing close contacts of symptomatic individuals.
Testing populations such as health care workers, day care employees or researchers in certain labs who may be at higher risk of disease spread based on their inability to always practice social distancing because of their jobs or activities.
Broad-based random testing to monitor the conditions on campus and identify cases.
We have already begun testing members of our community through this program during the summer and plan to quickly scale up to test all students living in campus residence halls between the opening of the residence halls on August 20 and the beginning of September. UHS will administer these simple saliva-based tests for students, faculty and staff, and the High Throughput Testing Core lab, developed by the Center for Biomedical Research Support under the Vice President for Research, will perform the testing.
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Our testing plan has been rigorously designed and developed collaboratively by experts in the College of Natural Sciences, University Health Services and Dell Medical School. Our goal is to make testing as accessible as possible for our students, faculty and staff.
Our success as a university begins and ends with the health of our community. While we continue to pursue our teaching and research missions, we must also do our best to limit the presence of COVID-19 on the Forty Acres. This starts with robust and rigorous testing, but also includes our individual actions as community members and our adherence to vital requirements for self-quarantining, daily symptom screening, wearing face masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and other key safety measures.
In short, our testing strategy is a piece of a much larger commitment from our community that will require the vigilance and mindfulness of every one of us. If we are to Protect Texas Together, we must adopt a new way of living, working, learning, teaching and discovering on the Forty Acres. That’s how we will thrive during the fall. That’s how we, at UT, will continue to change this ever-evolving world.
Terrance Hines, M.D., FAAFP
Executive Director & Chief Medical Officer, University Health Services
Amy Young, M.D.
Vice Dean of Professional Practice, Dell Medical School
Chief Clinical Officer, UT Health Austin