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Dartmouth takes an aggressive approach on COVID testing

Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 6:31 PM EDT
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HANOVER, N.H. (WCAX) - Dartmouth College is taking an aggressive approach when it comes to testing students for COVID-19. They will all receive home testing kits before they arrive. Then, they will be tested an additional three times during their first week on campus.

"Testing of everyone on day zero, day three and day seven," said Dr. Lisa Adams of Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, who co-chairs the Ivy League school's coronavirus task force.

Tents, where the testing will take place, are already set up on campus. While the home testing kits will sample saliva, the campus tests will be self-administered with a nasal swab, similar to the one I gave myself several months ago. Volunteers will help students through the process.

"Make sure people are distanced, everyone has their masks on, etc., and also greeting them, welcoming them to Dartmouth," Adams said.

The students begin arriving on campus on Sept. 8. In addition to the testing, they will also be required to initially quarantine for 14 days, though they will be allowed to roam the campus and pick up food at the dining hall as long as they follow social distancing guidelines. Masks are mandatory; large gatherings are forbidden.

"We know up to 40% of individuals broadly speaking can have asymptomatic disease and it seems to be even more common among young people. So, testing is really necessary," Adams said.

College campuses across the country have seen spikes in cases as the students return. The Dartmouth campus is basically an extension of downtown Hanover and that has community members concerned.

“I think it is going to lead to community spread. Absolutely,” said Patti Mullin of Sunapee, New Hampshire.

Sunapee is about a half-hour south. Mullin was in town for an appointment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

"I think to myself, these are kids and we are putting them all in a big place and asking them to do adult things," Mullin said.

But Adams says the students are up for the challenge.

"They get it," she said. "Our students get that this is a pandemic and everybody needs to do their part."

Isolated dorms are also being set aside for if and when a student tests positive. The college has the room since only half the roughly 4,200 undergrads will be coming to campus each semester. The majority of classes will be held online for all students, including those living on campus.

"I feel really confident that our plan is as solid as any plan that as any institution can have," Adams said.

Seven-hundred-and-fifty graduate and professional students are already in the process of receiving their tests. An additional 100 students with symptoms have been tested, as well. All have come back negative.

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