Reentry During COVID: Approaches to Testing and Tracing

Part 3 of a 3-Part Series on Reentry During COVID-19

By: Sabrina Beroz

With many schools continuing the use of online education, schools in professions requiring on-campus laboratory experiences must create plans for safe student return. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020a) has developed core indicators for determining community burden as a guide at the local level. Two indicators serve to determine the threshold for risk of transmission of COVID-19 at schools: 1) the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days, and 2) the percentage of COVID-19 RT-PCR tests that are positive during the last 14 days.

Success in opening schools during the pandemic is dependent on prevention of transmission and the expectation that one or more cases will require mitigation strategies to decrease the risk of spread. These mitigation strategies include social distancing, the wearing of masks, cleaning protocols, hand hygiene, testing, and contact tracing.

Let us turn toward testing and tracing in institutions of higher education (IHE). As IHEs reopen, the CDC (2020b)  offers ways to help protect to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 among students, faculty, and staff. Together, testing and tracing are one component of a comprehensive strategy. Keep in mind, CDC recommendations are supplemental and do not replace federal, state, and local public health regulations for IHEs. Decisions regarding the implementation of testing strategies are between the IHE and state and local authorities.

Protocols for symptom testing and tracing are clear. The guidelines tell us to test those who are symptomatic and those with known exposure to an individual who has tested positive. Contact tracing is the identification, monitoring, and support of people exposed to or with close contact to someone infected with COVID-19. What is close contact? Close contact happens when you have been within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting within 48 hours before the person begins feeling ill. Isolation of the infected person breaks the chain of infection. However, the challenge happens when an individual is positive and does not know it or does not follow prevention guidelines. Self-quarantine for close contacts should last for 14 days and include screening with temperature checks and monitoring of symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath.

Screening is required in IHEs. However, the question for IHEs is whether to test at all, and if tests are required, how often should they be done? In an informal survey of schools of nursing across the nation, the author found some schools only test symptomatic students and follow CDC guidelines for contact tracing; others sample test the population; others test all students weekly and restrict access to school property if a student is noncompliant with testing. We are truly in unprecedented times of uncertainty and ambiguity. Lessons will be learned as we move forward. Keep safe and healthy, everyone!


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2020a, September 15). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Indicators for dynamic school decision-making.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020b). Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

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