I would like to add to the article in last Thursday’s DM about mass testing for COVID on campus.
The university calls mass testing “sentinel testing” or “surveillance testing.” We want to find out what percentage of asymptomatic people have the SARS-CoV-2 virus and are potential spreaders of COVID. If this percentage is 1%, that means only one person in a group of 100 likely has the virus asymptomatically. But if the percentage is 5%, that means one person in a group of 20 has the virus asymptomatically. And in a group of 50 unmasked fraternity members, if the percentage is 5%, two or three were infected with the virus. If the percentage is 2%, one of them had it.
If the percentage is 20%, don’t get in a car with four other people.
We need to know what the percentage is on our campus, so students, faculty and staff can adjust their behavior accordingly. This knowledge empowers us to take measures that will get us back to normal as quickly as possible.
Invitations to do the survey are being sent out in direct proportion to how many people in a given category are on campus. Students receive 85% of the invitations, staff 9% and faculty 6%.
In the first week, 14.5% of the invited students responded to the invitation. Fewer than half of those actually followed through to receive the test. Roughly 30% of the staff responded, and two-thirds of those were tested. Approximately 36% of the faculty responded, and two-thirds of them were tested. 3,392 students were invited, 380 staff and 228 faculty: 4,000 invitations in all.
By my calculations, this means some 3,300 people ignored the invitation for a free COVID test. Some of them may have had COVID already, some may be off-campus and some may have had symptoms so they knew they would be ineligible. Some people only skim their emails, but email is the principal means of official communication on campus, and in the middle of a pandemic, it is especially important to pay attention to it.
There is a demand for free testing, but it is troubling that the offer for free testing has so far elicited an underwhelming response.
Again, it will be very helpful to know what percentage of people on campus are infected with SARS-CoV-2 asymptomatically. No matter what category you fall into (student, faculty, or staff), if you are invited to test, please test.
Jean Gispen is a physician with the University of Mississippi Employee Health Service.