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Markedly heterogeneous COVID-19 testing plans among US colleges and universities

By A. Sina Booeshaghi, Fayth Hui Tan, Benjamin Renton, Zackary Berger, Lior Pachter

Posted 11 Aug 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.09.20171223

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in the United States, colleges that have invited students back for the fall are finalizing mitigation plans to lessen the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Even though students have largely been away from campuses over the summer, several outbreaks associated with colleges have already occurred, foreshadowing the scale of infection that could result from hundreds of thousands of students returning to college towns and cities. While many institutions have released return-to-campus plans designed to reduce viral spread and to rapidly identify outbreaks should they occur, in many cases communications by college administrators have been opaque. To contribute to an evaluation of university preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic, we assessed a crucial element: COVID-19 on-campus testing. We examined testing plans at more than 500 colleges and universities throughout the US, and collated statistics, as well as narratives from publicly facing websites. We discovered a highly variable and muddled state of COVID-19 testing plans among US institutions of higher education that has been shaped by discrepancies between scientific studies and federal guidelines. We highlight cases of divergence between university testing plans and public health best practices, as well as potential bioethical issues.

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