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Fredonia expands COVID-19 testing, but positive cases still low

Submitted photo State University of New York at Fredonia officials report 375 students were tested last Friday.

More students than ever are being tested for COVID-19 at the State University of New York at Fredonia, but the number of positive cases is not increasing.

In fact, it’s not even budging.

There were no positives among 375 students tested on Friday, the most recent testing day.

“We’ve had just two positives,” Student Health Center director Deborah Dibble reported during the campus’ first five weeks of pooled surveillance testing. “I’m very happy with just two positives,” she added. “Everybody is doing a wonderful job here on campus.”

Weekly COVID-19 testing has been relocated to the Steele Hall Fieldhouse, enabling Fredonia to dramatically increase — by nearly a factor of four — the number of students it can test in a single day. By comparison, the Student Health Center, where testing was previously held, could accommodate up to 100 students a day.

The number of students tested will climb even higher when testing expands to three days each week, so Fredonia will have an even more accurate assessment of how well it’s doing to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The campus is doing pooled surveillance testing to do a check-in to see how we’re doing with our social distancing and our masking, but it’s also a way of catching folks that might be asymptomatic and could be spreading COVID without even knowing it,” Dibble said.

Through Wednesday, SUNY Fredonia has reported 118 negative cases and none for the most recent two-week period that began on Oct. 10.

“By doing the pooled testing as often as we’re doing, we’re actually finding out whether or not students are asymptomatic,” Dibble added. That data can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19.

Students have given high marks to expanded testing. “We’ve had (a total of) five weeks where it’s been going very well, very well organized, and students seem to be happy with the fact that they’re getting through quickly,” Dibble said. “Steele Hall allows us to quadruple the amount of people we can push through in a short period of time.”

Fredonia increased testing frequency in response to SUNY’s charge that campuses enhance their testing, Dibble said. “We want to make sure our campuses are safe, so this is one way of doing that.”

Students have been generally pleased with how testing has been carried out.

Janelle Miles, a first-year Psychology major from Holley, found the testing procedure to be well-organized and the staff on duty to be “really, really nice.”

“I am very pleased Fredonia is taking action to keep students and faculty safe. I really want the campus to stay open,” said Jada Banks, a sophomore Music Industry major from Buffalo. She found the testing process to be easy to navigate, adding, “I expected something a lot different.”

Very efficient is how Brian Goldstein, a Sport Management major from Long Island, described the procedure. “It was a good job.”

“I think (testing) is a good idea,” said Gabi Dierna, a senior Biology major from Rochester, N.Y., by providing a timely assessment of how well the campus is doing to limit the spread of COVID-19. That information would not be known without ongoing pooled testing, she added.

Isabella Cromwell, a senior Communication Disorders and Sciences major from Buffalo, gave high marks for the use of the fieldhouse. “I think it was very spacious,” she said, and added that it’s a good idea to continue testing.

“Some students have concerns that they are being tested more than once,” Dibble noted, “but we explain that it’s part of SUNY’s testing protocol.” Students are randomly selected, from the entire enrollment, each week, so a student can be tested more than once.

The fieldhouse contains more than 33,000 square feet, and Dibble says nearly every bit of it is being utilized. Students initially undergo temperature checks and answer a few questions, then register using their smart phone, pick up their testing tube and, at the final station, self-administer the saliva swab at one of five tables staffed by personnel in full personal protective equipment.

As many as 15 staff members, drawn from the Student Health Center, Enrollment and Student Services, Residence Life, and Environmental Health and Safety and Sustainability, are on duty. Students performing internships also assist with registration and crowd flow.

All saliva samples are pulled together and shipped that afternoon, via Fed-Ex, to SUNY Upstate Medical University for analysis. Results are delivered online to Fredonia within three to five days, Dibble said.

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