By Drew Wemple
SUNY Plattsburgh marked the launch of its COVID-19 pool testing last Wednesday.The college tested 449 students in Algonquin Hall in its first round of pool testing. Additional rounds were scheduled for Wednesday and next week.
SUNY Plattsburgh adopted pool testing rather than individual testing because of the cost and efficiency of testing larger groups of students. One pool test can test samples of 10 to 25 students and costs less than the price of one individual sample test.
SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi, alongside newly appointed SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, announced the pooled surveillance testing back on Aug. 21 during Malatras’ first visit to SUNY Plattsburgh’s campus as SUNY chancellor.
On-campus students were notified of a time and day of their scheduled time to get tested in emails sent Sept. 1. The order for testing was determined by residence halls. Dr. Kathleen Camelo, director of the Student Health Center, clarified the order for testing with her following statement,
“We just tried to pick the dorms that have approximately the same number of students so testing days would be equal.”
Scheduled students then made their way to Algonquin Hall for the first batch of testing Sept. 2.
Several greeters, some who were volunteers from Greek life, welcomed students as they arrived at Algonquin Hal and were there to make sure the process started as smoothly as possible.
Greeters first checked Student IDs, asked if students if they had any symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, cough, etc., then asked if the students have engaged in any activity that might compromise their results, such as eating or drinking 30 minutes prior, teeth brushing or mouth washing within the past three hours and smoking or vaping.
Students then hopped in a line that wrapped from the entrance to Algonquin Hall all the way into Little Al’s cafe. The line had markers that encouraged students to stay six feet apart.
When it’s their turn, the student steps up to one of the testing stations. The stations were plastic folding tables that had an industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer, half full test tube racks and a qualified nurse seated behind it.
The nurses wore powder blue hospital scrubs, blue gloves, and large clear face shields covering everything from their forehead all the way down to their chin. Nurses issued students with a cotton swab, which they were instructed to swab the inside of their cheek, avoiding their teeth, for at least 15 seconds.
Jessica Tafuri, a freshman living in Whiteface Hall, was tested in the first round last Wednesday.
“it wasn’t that bad. Definitely weird for me, but not that bad,” she said.
After the swab, Tafuri put her cotton piece in a red-capped test tube that contained a biological solution and mixed the two together. Each test tube had a barcode that linked to an app where students can login with their student ID to track their test results.
The next step would be to pool the samples together to properly follow this surveillance test. One of the Health Center nurses who was running one of these testing stations took the time to explain the technicalities of the next steps.
“We take 12 red tubes and combine them into one large test tube with a matching code,” Daniel Snyder said, “We’ll run the COVID test on the large tubes, checking for any positives.”
If any of the large tubes yielded a positive result, the school is forced to then go back and individually test each student from the 12 original samples. Snyder adds that SUNY Upstate may come in and perform the individual testing themselves, this secondary testing requiring the more common nasal swab test.
The expectation from Snyder was that fewer than 1% of samples would come back positive. The first round of results came back last Friday when it was announced that no samples were tested positive.
This statement was followed with many positive reactions from students, but Camelo is adamant that nothing will change. When asked what would happen if the campus had little to no positives, in regards to classroom and campus protocols, Camelo said:
“It would mean what we’re doing to prevent this is working,” she said. “We do not want this to create a false sense of security. We don’t want to let our guard down.”