Cougar Care Team Takes New COVID Precautions

Megan Oldak, Multimedia Editor

In addition to safety guidelines established last semester, the Cougar Care team has adopted a new online symptom tracker, implemented surveillance testing and converted the Henry Student Lounge into a testing site.

The Cougar Care Team will send a random selection of 10 staff, students and faculty an email each week to report to the Henry Student Lounge for testing. A self-administered saliva PCR test will be provided to each person in the group to create a “pool” test sample. According to Blake Brown, a Cougar Care Team member and Social Media Marketing Strategist, pool testing is a standard process to get results more quickly when working with a large population.

“If a group sample tests positive, the samples will be rerun, and the individual [who tested] positive will be identified and contacted,” Brown said.

The implementation of surveillance testing is the most significant change in protocols from the fall. The goal of the testing strategy is to identify asymptomatic individuals to help reduce the spread of COVID.

To ensure a quick turnaround time with test results, the renovated Henry Science Center has been equipped with the tools needed to process these tests.

“Having the testing equipment on campus will greatly speed up the distribution of results, reduce reliance on the outside lab and give the university more options do surveillance testing,” Brown said.

The Cougar Care team has implemented this testing system for almost a month on nearly 1,000 individuals. Brown said the sample analysis instrument is sensitive enough to identify asymptomatic individuals.

The team hopes to test about 25 percent of the campus population each week with this system. The objective of all these changes is early detection and early containment of potential COVID cases, officials said.

“The faster we remove someone who tests positive for COVID-19 from a classroom, residence hall or working environment, the safer it is for our community as a whole,” said Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Affairs and member of the Cougar Care Team.

Unlike the previous LiveSafe app, the new MU Daily Symptom tracker is run through Medicat, a content management system  previously used for uploading required health documents. This system allows students who the Cougar Care team randomly selects for surveillance testing to schedule  their tests. This interface directly sends data to the Health and Wellness Center, allowing for a more streamlined process, officials said.

The symptom tracker is also used to clear community members to gain entry into campus locations. Healthy students must present the green badge they receive on the app to show they are cleared to be on campus in buildings such as the Anderson Sports and Health Center and the Metz Dining Hall.

Brown said the new system allows for more efficient data processing.

“This allows for better-integrated data on students’ health, and it saves time each day in reviewing the data submitted by our campus community. The new process should be even quicker and more efficient,” he said.

University officials also increased safety precautions by requiring each student to provide a negative COVID test before returning to campus for the start of the spring semester. Officials said the requirement was essential to reduce the risk of the virus spreading on campus.

“Our goal is to provide a safe environment to keep everyone healthy and maintain the on-campus experience that our students want during this challenging time,” Foley said.

Foley added that it is crucial that the community members continue to look out for one another to keep one another safe.