A physically distanced line forms on the sidewalk leading to the main entrance of Grace Haight Hall as BJU graduate student Caleb Woo makes preparations to receive the influx of students to be tested for the COVID-19 virus.
The door to the former nursing building swings open and individuals are directed to a waiting room — the first stop in a controlled and efficient process to gauge the health of the University student population. More than 1,600 students, including 447 last week, have been tested since the start of the semester using portable, rapid molecular ID NOW COVID-19 technology from Abbott Diagnostics Scarborough.
Two individuals from last week’s group tested positive, which bolstered the University’s move March 2 to a phased approach to de-escalate its COVID-19 campus-wide protocols — initially relaxing face coverings when students are seated in public buildings and while seated in classes at the instructor’s discretion.
BJU President Steve Pettit said the move has been positive for “the overall benefit of the students.” “I already could tell in the last week that your spirits have been lifted and it’s a great encouragement,” he said in chapel March 8.
Testing Pool Expanding
Winter and spring athletic teams and the cast and orchestra of A Tale of Two Cities are tested weekly “to get an idea of campus health,” according to Woo. The pool has recently been expanded.
“We sent an email to the general student population for randomized testing and next week we’re hoping to invite students in different dorms at different times to be tested,” Woo said. “We hope to get 80 to 100 participants per week just to see how dorm health is. We had a small population to draw conclusions from and we started increasing that to verify conclusions and we’re hoping that when students come the conclusions we made early in the semester will be the same once we test even more people.”
After a 10-second swab of both nostrils, most students are excused. Results are available in about 15 minutes on an app. Individuals who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus remain in the building in an effort to minimize contact tracing if a positive result is determined.
“I’m running the operation at Grace Haight but I have a very supportive team in Dr. (Jessica) Minor, Dr. (Bernard) Kadio and Mrs. (Michelle) Benson helping with the decision-making and workflow and a bunch of health science, premed and nursing students,” Woo said. “They have been so faithful and helpful in coming.”
Call to Remain Diligent
Pettit emphasized the importance to maintain safe physical distancing, hand washing and cleaning surfaces as virus mitigation steps.
BJU’s COVID-19 Task Force will continue to meet several times each week and monitor surveillance testing levels to advise changes to protocols. On-campus classes end April 30. The fall 2021 semester begins Aug. 25.
Working through Phases
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) vaccination Phase 1A, which began in early February, has focused on inoculating health care personnel and individuals 65 and older regardless of health status or preexisting conditions.
DHEC moved to Phase 1B — individuals 55 and older, plus an array of frontline workers and high-risk medical subsets — March 8. BJU faculty, staff and student workers qualify.
Beginning April 12, state residents 45 and older and a broader swath of frontline workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine. About May 3, all South Carolinians 16 and older, regardless of occupation, will be eligible.
Return to Normal Activities
Public Health officials have said herd immunity in the U.S. will be achieved when 70% to 80% of the population of 330 million is vaccinated, which ostensibly would lead to a return to activities without COVID-19 restrictions.
“As we look ahead to summertime, last year we had to cancel the fireworks for the Fourth of July,” City of Greenville spokeswoman Beth Brotherton said. “What could that look like this year?”