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Penn State Launches New Coronavirus Testing & Surveillance Center

Penn State has launched a new in-house laboratory to concentrate Penn State’s random asymptomatic surveillance coronavirus testing at University Park, the university announced Monday.

The center, dubbed the Testing and Surveillance Center (TASC), will shift University Park’s daily student surveillance testing from Vault Health to an in-house operation. The new lab, which is working alongside Penn State experts and using university resources, will process tests in “pools” starting at five at a time.

“Pool testing is an efficient disease surveillance method used to assess what percentage of the University’s population may be infectious and to identify community trends,” Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor and associate director of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, said. “Surveillance testing of individuals without COVID-19 symptoms allows the University to monitor positive asymptomatic cases and determine the need for additional mitigation steps.”

Penn State said it is setting up convenient, quick-collection sites in “geographically dispersed locations” around campus for TASC workers to collect samples from students randomly identified for surveillance testing. Although these samples are collected through nasal swabs, they aren’t the “deeper” swabs used for on-demand testing.

Selected students will be contacted by email and text and acn schedule appointments at select on-campus locations. They’re required to complete the free testing within 48 to 72 hours after being contacted.

“The University has invested in staffing and significant automation of testing capabilities to increase the availability and improve turn-around time of our existing resources to meet the needs of this important surveillance testing component of the plan,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “Coupled with other on-demand testing resources and our robust contact tracing program, this in-house testing capability will bolster the University’s multi-layered approach to control the spread of the virus on the campus.”

Students won’t receive individual results through pool testing. However, if Penn State finds a pool test comes back as positive or indeterminate, its contact tracing team will reach out to the five tested individuals for further diagnostic testing at University Health Services and help students isolate until results are returned.

Penn State will include pool testing results in its COVID-19 Dashboard once they’re validated. Updates to the reporting tool are generally expected twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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