‘Better sense of COVID-19 presence’: UC Berkeley expands coronavirus testing to campus community

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Starting April 14, campus testing for the coronavirus has been expanded to include any students and certain campus affiliates who exhibit symptoms.

Until recently, the Innovative Genomics Institute, or IGI, adhered to the criteria recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and only tested those who displayed severe symptoms, are medically high risk, had known exposure or had recently been to a severely affected country. According to a campus press release, testing will now be available to any students, campus first responders, health care workers and essential employees who display symptoms.

“We believe this will give us a better sense of COVID-19 presence in the current student population and it will assist us in planning efforts,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “It will help prevent spread as those who know they have the infection will be far less likely to transmit it, especially to a vulnerable population.”

Gilmore added that the strict isolation of infected individuals is crucial to limiting the spread of the disease, which relies heavily on the availability of quick and accurate testing.

Prior to the April 6 opening of the IGI lab, University Health Services, or UHS, used an overimpacted commercial lab to process the tests, which meant one-week turnaround rates for test results, according to Gilmore.

With the IGI lab now up and running, results are being processed in one to two business days, Gilmore added. Once the lab begins operating at full capacity using robotics technology, it could take as little as four to six hours.

“For patients it reduces the waiting period and the anxiety of waiting a week or so for test results,” Gilmore said in the email. “For UHS, it helps prevent a major backlog of pending cases, and allows UHS to have a better sense of COVID-19 presence in our campus community in a more efficient and timely way.”

So far, only one test out of nearly 100 conducted through the lab has been found positive, making the total number of confirmed cases among campus affiliates 10, according to Gilmore.

This number is expected to rise significantly due to the much higher volume of tests that UHS is able to accommodate with lab operations. Gilmore noted, however, that this will not necessarily mean there are many new cases, but rather that cases that were previously unidentified due to lack of testing will now be confirmed.

With a lack of supplies and equipment affecting health care workers across the country, supply chain issues could pose a problem for the testing center in the future, Gilmore added.

“While UHS has adequate supplies for the next few months, the pandemic will likely continue beyond that and additional supply chain issues may emerge,” Gilmore said in the email. “The testing is also currently dependent on the hard work and continued good health of both paid and unpaid personnel; human resources could be limited if the need increases further.”

Contact Jacob Souza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.