How NIU's random daily COVID-19 testing works

  • Brittni Adams, left, and Nakiah Wilkes, both freshman from Chicago, wear masks as they walk past the NIU sign at Northern Illinois University Tuesday afternoon. Masks can be seen on students all over campus as they adjust to attending classes amid the pandemic.

    Brittni Adams, left, and Nakiah Wilkes, both freshman from Chicago, wear masks as they walk past the NIU sign at Northern Illinois University Tuesday afternoon. Masks can be seen on students all over campus as they adjust to attending classes amid the pandemic. Mark Busch/Shaw Media

 
 
Updated 9/2/2020 7:06 PM

If students Northern Illinois University feel ill or think they've been exposed to COVID-19, they take a test -- a system that so far has resulted in 37 positives.

But Chief of Staff Matt Streb said NIU has rolled out an additional measure aimed at more efficiently tracking viral spread on campus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On Wednesday, the university began surveillance testing -- in which about 125 students a day out of a pool of about 3,000 will be tested. The pool of students who will be tested includes not only those living in residential halls, but also those taking in-person classes in which social distancing or mask wearing is not possible.

"It really is a way to identify asymptomatic students and take care of potential hot spots," Streb said. "Obviously, with residence hall students in particular, this is important because of congregant living. We want to make sure we're on top of the health of those students. In most normal lecture halls, you'd be 6 feet apart with masks, which most public health bodies would say to do. ... But that can be challenging when you and I have to be dance partners."

Students will be chosen at random for daily surveillance testing and will be required to participate several times during the fall semester. Students who fail to comply may eventually be removed from the residence halls and classes.

Streb said the test will be a simple nasal swab, not the more invasive nasopharyngeal test that is normally used with COVID-19.

"Some students didn't want to go through (that)," Streb said. "This is much more comfortable than what people normally associate with COVID-19 tests. We did require negative tests before returning to campus, and a lot of what we heard was that they didn't want to go through that again."

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Testing will take place 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Northwestern Medicine Student Health Center at NIU. Under the guidance of a medical professional, students will self-administer the nasal swab. Results will generally be available within three to five days, and students who have been tested can continue with their normal activities while they await results.

The tests are free to students.

The school will release the surveillance testing data for the week each Monday on its metrics dashboard. This week's data will go up Tuesday because Monday is Labor Day, Streb said.

When students are chosen for testing, they'll receive an email with the date and window of time for them to take a test. Those students who have a valid mobile phone number in MyNIU also will receive a text message.

Students will be assigned a time slot of 8 a.m. to noon or noon to 4 p.m. and should plan to be at the clinic for about 30 minutes.

Failure to participate when selected will result in a warning, according to NIU's COVID-19 website. Failure to reschedule within 24 to 48 hours of the original time could result in removal from the residence halls and classes.

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