Tartan Testing updated guidelines

Following inconclusive test results, new guidelines have been implemented for Tartan Testing. (credit: Lucy Monroe/Photo Editor) Following inconclusive test results, new guidelines have been implemented for Tartan Testing. (credit: Lucy Monroe/Photo Editor)

Recent asymptomatic COVID-19 tests returned inconclusive results, prompting administrators involved in COVID-19 coordination to change guidelines. Now, students invited to participate in the Tartan COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Program, shortened to Tartan Testing, are asked to "not eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, and/or chew gum" 60 minutes prior to testing.

This is "to improve the quality of samples," said Vice President for Research Michael McQuade in a statement to The Tartan. "Samples that are contaminated cannot be tested. To further improve the quality of samples, we also added the suggestion that individuals should swish water in their mouth and swallow it 10 minutes before their appointment."

Tartan Testing started in January, testing asymptomatic students on Carnegie Mellon's campus during a "ramp-up" period. Later, with increased staffing and laboratory equipment, the testing program expanded to include randomly selected students in the Pittsburgh area.

Tartan Testing uses saliva tests as opposed to the more common nasal swab tests. These saliva tests are easier to administer but are also more easily contaminated. As a result, in the first few weeks of testing, many students received messages such as "test not performed" or that their test was "invalid." This prompted the change in guidelines to try to minimize the contamination of saliva before testing appointments.

Carnegie Mellon has tried to ensure that Tartan Testing is as accessible and safe as possible. The university has created a shuttle service that transports students and faculty six stops to the Cohon University Center. Tartan Testing employees are also being tested every week.

In January alone, Tartan Testing tested nearly 2,700 samples from graduate students and approximately 3,400 from undergraduate students. Tartan Testing Operations Director George Innocenzo has been pleased with the response of Carnegie Mellon students to the testing.

"There are outliers, and everywhere you deal with certain communities but with the testing itself, there's been a lot of positive feedback," Innocenzo said. Innocenzo continued, "A lot of students have been very happy to come in and get the test taken care of because obviously it's for them but it's also for the community."

"As far as the community itself and the way students take the mitigation seriously, with wearing the mask and socially distancing, it's actually been kind of nice to see everyone actually trying to follow the rules," Innocenzo explained. "It's actually been a great revelation for us."

As always, it is important to not get complacent and lose caution. As Tartan Testing continues to ramp up, Innocenzo hopes that everyone will take advantage of the appointments that are made available. In addition, administrators hope that students that test negative for COVID-19 do not gain a false sense of security, and advise students to continue the standard protective protocols.

"It is important to remember that a negative COVID-19 test result only represents a moment in time, and that anyone could become infected at any time before or after a test is administered or results are received," McQuade said. He added, "Ongoing adherence to all required mitigation strategies remains critical. Please continue to complete the daily self-assessment, maintain physical distancing, wear facial coverings and consistently wash your hands."