Juniata College will have some 450 of their faculty and staff tested Contamination Source Identification (CSI) for COVID-19 before their students return for the fall semester.

Testing, which will come at no cost to employees, does not have a set start date, but college president Dr. Jim Troha said they will take place shortly before students return to campus.

“A lot depends on the return of our students. If we’re starting on time, testing for faculty will begin a few days, maybe a week, prior to their arrival. We have to have a gap in time between faculty and staff getting tested to create as much of a COVID-free bubble as we can. We don’t want to test faculty in July,” he said.

There is currently no set start date for the fall semester.

Troha pointed to the accuracy of the company’s RT-QPCR test, which comes in at 95% accuracy rate, as well as the speed in bringing back results.

“With other tests, one in five could be false positives or false negatives and that’s not good enough,” he said. “And one of the real advantages of CSI is the quick turnaround. It could be as little as half a day.”

Dr. Gina Lamendella, co-owner of CSI and professor of biology at Juniata College, said although the exact details aren’t in place yet, samples will be collected on campus and transported a few short blocks to CSI’s location on Moore Street in Huntingdon.

“We’re hoping to do this in a large fashion and quickly, less than 24 hours. Faculty and staff get swabbed from the Juniata healthcare facility and the swab gets transported a block or two away where the samples will then get run through the lab,” she said.

Lamendella also noted the advantages of their RT-QPCR test over other testing methodologies, such as antibody testing.

“The test we’re performing tests the active virus, which is a lot better than an antibody test. It’s great because you’ll be able to catch some of the asymptomatic individuals.”

The college has also been in discussions about the possibility of testing students in the future.

“We’re looking at multiple scenarios. We just don’t know where testing is going to end up. Testing all our incoming students is feasible through a variety of means. We’re clearly not going to be reckless about this, we are working to every end to mitigate whatever risks there are,” said Troha.

“Maybe it’s requiring them to get a test in their local community within 48 hours of returning and bringing evidence of that test. That said, the reliability of many tests is all over the place. We’re trying to understand how to potentially balance having our own testing upon their arrival with other possibilities. Things are going to evolve, here in mid-May it was very different two weeks ago and it will be very different two weeks from now.”

As grateful as Troha is for having a testing facility in the college’s backyard, testing is just one of many problems to work through in the coming months.

“The real challenge isn’t the testing itself. Once they get tested, how do you protect yourself moving forward? What happens with the dining halls? When faculty and staff are heading back to their homes, are they taking all the right precautions? What happens with college athletics if we’re competing against schools that haven’t tested. All these things have to play out over the next couple months,” he said.

Lamendella believes the college is on the right track in its approach.

“It’s been great working with Jim (Troha) and the trustees. They’re asking the important questions,” she said.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

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