Tulane ramps up COVID-19 testing as positivity rate rises

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Students wear masks for in-person class as the board projects the tech-enhanced Zoom class with distance-learning students.

Gabby Abrams, News Editor

Tulane Campus Health reports a COVID-19 positivity rate of 2.9 percent following the first week of the Fall 2020 semester. 2,470 students, faculty, and staff were tested and with 73 positive cases identified. These results are detailed in the Aug. 28th COVID-19 update email to the Tulane community. Tulane sent out an email alerting students of an increase in testing and a new testing center for Undergraduate students Sept. 2. 

Campus Health has conducted 14,521 COVID-19 tests since the testing program began on July 27, with a total of 155 positive cases. 86 of those cases are currently active, 84 of which are students and 2 being university employees. Paterson Hall, the university’s Uptown center for testing and quarantine, is hosting 59 of those students. Students with the virus are instructed to isolate for 10 days following their first positive test. 

Due to an increase in the number of positive asymptomatic cases among the Undergraduate student population, Campus Health sent out new guidelines and reiterated isolation, quarantining and health protocols in an email sent out to students Sept. 1. 

Last week, we announced that all undergraduate students will be tested weekly. This week, we are increasing the testing of students living on campus to twice per week. We are working to quickly expand our testing program. Please be patient as we expand testing,” the email said. “We are currently working to increase our testing capacity and will be ramping up to deliver the following schedule in coming weeks:

  • On-campus undergraduate students: twice weekly
  • Off-campus undergraduate students: weekly
  • Graduate and Professional Students: at least monthly
  • Employees (including faculty, staff and Sodexo/Allied staff and other contract workers): at least monthly”

Campus Health has also set up an additional testing center in Phelps Hall for Undergraduate students only. Those who already have a scheduled test at Patterson Hall should keep their appointment, but as of Sept. 2, Undergraduates should be scheduling tests at Phelps while Graduate, Professional students and employees will be tested at Patterson, the email said. 

Other students that have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus are also quarantining for 14 days, per Tulane’s Health and Safety Strategies. 76 students are quarantining at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. 

Both the Hyatt Regency and Paterson Hall have 85 and 46 percent availability remaining respectively. 

Tulane’s COVID-19 tests are conducted in-house by the Molecular Pathology Laboratory at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine of Tulane University School of Medicine. The tests are conducted for asymptomatic individuals while those with symptoms are advised to contact Campus Health or a healthcare provider. 

Tulane and New Orleans case numbers are currently identified as a Yellow Action Alert Level, meaning that there are an increasing number of cases in the New Orleans area but on-campus cases are stable/low. New Orleans COVID-19 cases are returning a 1.9 percent positivity rate and Louisiana has a 4.9 percent positivity rate. 

Students are instructed to continue conducting all Green Level Actions including personal hygiene, wearing face coverings, and conducting a daily COVID-19 self-check texted to all students daily. Tulane has also continued to enforce their policy around social gatherings. 

“Do not host parties or do not attend large gatherings,” says Dean of Students Erica Woodley, “We have already had to suspend students because of their decision to host gatherings of over 15 people. 

Campus Health has also ramped up their testing schedule to include weekly tests for undergraduates and monthly tests for graduate students. 

Other universities across the country have seen increases in COVID-19 cases causing them to revert to online classes. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shifted to remote learning after their case positivity rates reached 13.6 percent. 

The University of Alabama on the other hand reported 1,200 positive cases as of Aug. 29th, but is continuing to operate in a hybrid learning model similar to Tulane’s. 

As of Aug. 30th, colleges in 36 states have reported a total of 8,700 positive COVID-19 cases. The US has reported over 6 mil. infections since January. 

Tulane test statistics will continue to be posted on the Return to Campus site as the semester progresses.