LEWISBURG, W.Va. – The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) took action in October to help officials track the spread of the COVID-19 virus through surveillance testing, as required of all public two- and four-year institutions by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
Ten percent of students, faculty and staff on WVSOM’s Lewisburg campus are being tested each week from Oct. 12 to Dec. 14. Testing is conducted through COVID-19 diagnostic saliva tests in which an individual provides a saliva sample that is then sent to a testing service. Results are returned via email. In positive cases WVSOM administrators will determine whether additional testing should occur, coordinate contact tracing with the Greenbrier County Health Department and determine whether steps such as cleaning or shutting down areas of campus are necessary.
The program is in accordance with the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, a mandate from W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice and WVSOM’s own policies and procedures. Surveillance testing in higher education institutions is part of West Virginia’s strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, allowing the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources and other officials to monitor and address real-time trends and prevalence and make timely decisions on intervention and response.
WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., said the surveillance testing program will help the medical school continue to do its part in keeping West Virginians safe during the pandemic.
“WVSOM is committed to the well-being of those who have entrusted us to support them in fulfilling their dream of becoming physicians, to the faculty and staff who work with them through their medical school journey and to the residents of our state, and we’re pleased to help the Higher Education Policy Commission track the spread of the virus,” Nemitz said. “Testing all those who use the Lewisburg campus is an important step in combating the pandemic.”
The test used in the program is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and is the only saliva test authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for self-collection in the U.S. Its accuracy is comparable to nasal swab tests and can detect levels of virus as low as 10 copies per milliliter of saliva. Unlike an antibody test, a blood test that shows only whether an individual previously had COVID-19, PCR tests check for the current presence of the virus.
All eligible members of the WVSOM community are scheduled to be tested through the surveillance program except those deemed to have a valid reason for opting out, such as disability or current illness, being under quarantine by a provider or public health official, having tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days, or being tested at an alternative facility and sharing the results with WVSOM.
The program will complement WVSOM’s previous efforts to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. When Justice issued a stay-at-home order for state residents in March, most school employees moved from working on the institution’s campus to completing tasks from their home locations, returning in July as part of the school’s three-phase Return to Campus plan. WVSOM also suspended out-of-state business travel and limited access to campus, among other safety measures.
When students returned for the 2020-21 academic year, they were required to self-isolate and participate in drive-through COVID-19 testing stations, and were divided into pod of about 22 people to limit unnecessary interaction in labs. Students and employees are currently required to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines on campus and to wear face masks.