During the Spring Semester, Wittenberg plans to test 3% of the student body for COVID-19 each week. The testing will be done as part of a combined program by the Office of the Governor, Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Department on Higher Education to test for the virus at colleges and universities.
“The opportunity to test more broadly and more often make this an important step forward in our fight against [the spread of] COVID-19,” Governor Mike DeWine said in a press conference announcing the testing plan on Oct. 13. The Torch first learned about Wittenberg’s participation in an Oct. 30 interview with President Michael Frandsen.
“The governor has recommended that [Wittenberg] test 3% of the students every week and we will receive tests so we can do that,” Frandsen said of the testing plan. Since Nov. 2, Wittenberg has been running a pilot program to iron out test logistics for spring semester. During the pilot program, athletes participating in sports defined as high contact by the NCAA have been randomly selected for testing. One such student selected for testing was Women’s Lacrosse attacker Shannon Brown (’21) who was tested on Nov. 5.
“I got an email [from Bret Billhardt] saying that I was selected to be randomly tested for COVID-19,” Brown said. After receiving Billhardt’s email, Brown had to select a time to head to the nursing lab in the Science Center for testing.
“[The test] was a giant Q-tip [which] you put up either side of your nose and twist five times in either side. Then you would put [Q-tip] in a two by two-inch booklet with a solution and close the booklet,” Brown said. The test process which Brown is describing is Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen test which was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration in late August.
Abbott’s test looks for specific proteins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which cases COVID-19 and is known as an antigen test. According to the FDA, antigen tests can return results within 15-30 minutes of testing, far exceeding the 24-72-hour turnaround time of PCR tests. Abbott claims that their BinaxNOW test delivers results within 15 minutes.
With the quick turnaround of tests results, antigen tests are more likely to miss an active COVID-19 infection compared to PCR tests according to the FDA. Abbott claims that their test can catch 97.1% of positive COVID-19 cases while confirming 98.5% of negative cases. Abbott claims these numbers from a study which conducted a mere 102 tests to apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA. During the study, zero individuals between the ages of 0 and 21 were tested using Abbott’s BinaxNOW test. Meanwhile 77 individuals between 22 and 59 years-old were tested and 25 individuals age 60 and older participated in the study.
When asked why Wittenberg did not implement a COVID-19 testing strategy, Young claimed that the COVID-19 Response Team “did not deem [testing necessary if people were following our other protocols.” As The Torch reported on Sept. 7, Wittenberg was the only institution in the North Coast Athletic Conference to not implement or mandate a COVID-19 testing strategy before the start of the fall semester. Even as students are forced to leave campus by Nov. 25, senior staff members seemed relucent to push students towards getting a COVID-19 test prior to leaving.
“If people feel like they need a test or it’s required based on where they live, Student Development can help route them to the proper place.” Young said, “It won’t be mass testing like we had [on Sept. 9] but if there are students who are concerned and feel like they need tests, contact the health center or Student Development.”
When The Torch reached out to Casey Gill to request additional details regarding the COVID-19 testing program for the spring, Gill directed questions to Karen Gerboth, vice president for Marketing and Communications for Wittenberg. Gerboth refused to provide responses to The Torch’s questions, citing a high number of interviews with the COVID-19 Response Team within a short timeframe.