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Virginia Tech unveils COVID-19 testing plan, spends $1 million on PPE

Virginia Tech unveils COVID-19 testing plan, spends $1 million on PPE


Virginia Tech students are “strongly encouraged” to test negative for COVID-19 no more than five days before returning to campus in the fall.

Testing will be available to thousands of students living in university housing. Faculty, students and staff are asked to complete a daily health survey every time they arrive on campus. Students who test positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus will be quarantined in New Hall West, which normally would house 260 undergraduates.

Those are among the policies released by the university Thursday in a nine-page “COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Case Management” plan that will guide how Tech will mitigate the spread of the disease. Already, the pandemic has forced Tech to prepare for a fall semester of mostly online classes.

As the university prepares for the arrival of tens of thousands of students in Blacksburg, it has also stocked up on personal protective equipment, including face masks, disinfectant, gloves and thermometers.

To date, Tech has spent more than $1 million on PPE, according to Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski. That involves more than 400,000 disposable surgical masks, 58,000 reusable cotton cloth masks and 30,000 individual bottles of hand sanitizer, on top of the 2,300 hand sanitizer stations the university is installing on campus.

Scores of purchase orders between April 2 and June 30, requested by The Roanoke Times, show that the university has ordered face shields, disinfectant, more than $50,000 in Purell-brand sanitizer specifically, and four thermometer kiosks that can be enabled with facial recognition.

The university’s main supplier is Georgia-based Fisher Scientific Co., which Owczarski in an email described as “a long time strategic supplier for the university for lab supplies.” More than $190,000 in materials were supplied by Amazon, orders show. Owczarski said about $225,000 went to local, diverse or small companies.

Beginning Monday, the university will distribute the supplies from a warehouse in Blacksburg for pick-up by campus departments through early August. (A university notice mentions disinfectant “spray bottles” are on hand, though “due to a national shortage, no disinfectant wipes are available.”)

Meanwhile, the university’s testing plan makes it clear that students are responsible for keeping themselves healthy prior to their arrival in Blacksburg.

“All students will be asked to self-quarantine and wear a face covering for 14 days before arriving on campus,” Tech said in a statement about the plan.

While all students are encouraged to get tested before coming to campus, the roughly 9,000 students living in university residences in the fall can be tested during move-in days, which will be Aug. 14 through Aug. 23, through a testing clinic organized by the student health center.

Students living on campus make up about 30% of the total student population.

“If all our on-campus students participate in this screening program, we will have a very reliable snapshot of health and well-being of our student population, including students from areas of high prevalence, both within and outside of Virginia,” Mike Mulhare, assistant vice president for emergency management, said in a university statement. “That information will help us make informed decisions about future testing and mitigation strategies.”

Testing will start with student athletes and athletic staff when they return for training over the summer, the plan says. While the university has declined to say whether this has happened, multiple sources previously told The Roanoke Times that players are being tested.

The university’s plan notes that initial testing won’t include antibody tests, which can tell whether a person has had COVID-19 and recovered from the virus, “as the sensitivity and specificity of serologic tests vary.” Tech is seeking a $60,000 refund from a New-York-based company that provided the university with tests later recalled by the Food and Drug Administration because of accuracy concerns. Tech said they were never used.

Tech’s testing plan acknowledges that it might add such antibody, or serologic, tests in the future to its overall testing strategy if it proves effective.

The Virginia Department of Health helped Tech craft its initial plan and will conduct contact-tracing on those who test positive for COVID-19, the university said.

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