YSU Changes COVID-19 Testing for Spring Semester

Julie Gentile, the director of the office of environmental and occupational health and safety, explains additional steps the administration is taking this semester to contact trace during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Gabrielle Owens/The Jambar

By Abigail Cloutier 

In the fall 2020 semester, Youngstown State University offered several COVID-19 rapid testing events to students regarding Thanksgiving and Christmas travel. Throughout the semester, YSU offered free testing on Wednesdays at various locations in Youngstown. This semester, YSU is offering additional testing and is taking more preventative measures to track cases.

On Jan. 13, the office of environmental and occupational health and safety announced it will select 360 students, faculty and staff each week for preventative surveillance testing on-site in Kilcawley Center.

On Feb. 1, the office expanded the rapid testing to the entire campus Tuesdays and Wednesdays. According to Julie Gentile,  director of the office of environmental and occupational health and safety, the decision comes after low participation in the first few weeks of surveillance testing.

“Our original intent of targeting apartment buildings or something … the population was too small,” she said. “Opening it up to everybody on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will allow for more people to be tested throughout the week. It just was a better idea to get more people involved and show that people on campus are healthy and not infected.”

Neither the surveillance testing nor general testing programs are mandatory.

“The decision to have it not mandatory is consistent with what other Ohio universities are doing with the surveillance testing program and the details laid out by the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. DeWine,” she said. 

Some universities, including The Ohio State University and the University of Toledo, are moving toward a mandatory surveillance testing program because of their large student populations. 

“This is something that as the semester progresses, if we see continued high rates of community spread in Youngstown, as well as the surrounding counties, it may be something that our university does decide to go to,” Gentile said. 

She hopes for increased participation in voluntary testing to avoid making testing mandatory. Students do not have to have close contact or symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested. Testing is free and health insurance is not required. 

Another way YSU is trying to stay ahead of the curve is by testing the sewage of campus residence halls, buildings and some campus-affiliated properties — such as the University Courtyards — for the virus. 

“[If we] pull a sample and detect any of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, then we would follow up with specific target surveillance sampling in that building,” Gentile said. “The detection level and the wastewater is extremely low — it’s a lot lower than [with] a nasal swab. So you’d be able to identify somebody who may be shedding the virus before they had any kind of symptoms, or become contagious.”

The university is working with the ODH to obtain equipment and will be able to test samples on-site through the biology department. The university hopes to have the system running before the end of the spring semester. 

With all these changes, the university’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard will update to include separate data about surveillance testing and positivity rates in addition to the total data.