Baylor students must test negative for virus before returning to campus

Baylor University. Photo credit: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

By Raga Justin, Texas Tribune

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Baylor University students must test negative for the coronavirus before they can return to campus for the start of the fall semester, school officials said Tuesday.

That gives the school roughly three weeks to test around 18,000 students, who must all complete a mandatory coronavirus test that will be sent to their houses starting next week.

According to an email announcing the policy, students will get results in 48 hours. They are required to collect a sample via a nasal swab and mail it back to the designated lab on the same day they receive their test kit.

Requiring negative results before campus entry is a relatively unique policy across Texas universities preparing for a fall return. And according to guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, asking students to self-test before they return to campus may not be the most effective way to tamp down spread.

“Testing of all students, faculty and staff for COVID-19 before allowing campus entry (entry testing) has not been systematically studied,” the CDC website reads. “It is unknown if entry testing…provides any additional reduction in person-to-person transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected with implementation of other infection preventive measures. Therefore, CDC does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty, and staff.”

The CDC notes that there is “limited usefulness” to one blanket round of testing, which could miss cases in the early stages of infection or subsequent exposures. Baylor has not indicated whether it will continue testing on a rolling basis.

The policy “does help remove some of the uncertainty for us,” said Zach Tufenkjian, a rising junior at Baylor who will be returning to campus. But he, like the CDC, is concerned that the one-time testing policy leaves room later in the semester for an outbreak.

Testing in general will be a vital part of campus life this fall. College officials at Texas schools point to frequent and widespread testing as the lynchpin in their strategies to combat COVID-19 spread on campus.

The Texas A&M University System recently announced it would distribute 15,000 free test kits monthly across its 11 campuses. That will cost university officials about $2.25 million a month.

A Baylor University spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about how much testing there would cost officials.