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New COVID-19 testing facility opens on campus

A new COVID-19 testing facility has opened on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, the latest effort in a series of plans and protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19 as the university reopens for the fall semester.

The outdoor facility is housed under the covered walkway alongside the Purnell Center for the Arts, and it runs almost the entire length of the building. Informative lawn signs flank the facility’s Forbes Avenue-facing entrance, reading “COVID-19 testing here,” “Face coverings are mandatory at all time,” and “Please remember to physically distance.” The facility is staffed by University Health Services (UHS) employees, who will administer PCR tests to the campus community that are sent to national labs for processing.

Since Aug. 19, this facility has been processing tests from asymptomatic arrivals to campus, including all students moving into residence halls. This strategy was, as of Aug. 18, the only widespread testing the university planned to do, but as explained in an Aug. 28 communication, a new strategy expands asymptomatic testing to all undergraduate and graduate students, albeit not through this new facility.

Starting this week, all asymptomatic Carnegie Mellon students in the Pittsburgh area will be “invited to schedule an appointment to pick up their FDA-approved at-home saliva test kit,” Gina Casalegno, VP for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, told The Tartan in a written statement. Results for these kits, which are being tested at a national lab, will be back in 3 to 5 business days.

The university’s current plan to test a sample of around 1000 asymptomatic students per week will be carried out through this new Purnell pop-up facility. According to Casalegno, the university is also considering “the possibility of a surveillance strategy using an on-campus lab to administer and process saliva-based tests for all community members on a regular and ongoing basis” in addition to existing measures.

The testing process for symptomatic individuals is different and will not be handled at the new facility. Tests for those with COVID-19 symptoms will be given at the UHS clinic and will involve two separate tests: an antigen test and a PCR test. The antigen test, given first, returns results in about 15 minutes. If a symptomatic student gets a negative result from the antigen test, a confirmatory PCR test is given. Right now, results for these confirmatory tests are coming back in 1 to 2 days, according to Casalegno. Those with symptoms of COVID-19, or those who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive, should follow the steps laid out by the university.

The data that comes from this expanded testing strategy will be posted to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard with updates every Tuesday.