KU’s mass testing program reveals 72 new cases; no testing efforts of similar scope currently planned, Girod says

photo by: Conner Mitchell/Journal-World

A social distancing sign sits at a bus stop on the University of Kansas campus.

The mass testing program instituted prior to reopening the University of Kansas campus for the fall semester has revealed 546 cases of COVID-19 so far — with 72 new cases coming to light this week — and the university isn’t planning any more mass testing efforts on the same scale, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod announced Wednesday.

For the first time, Girod said in a campus message that KU would not continue testing everyone on campus moving forward. Instead, he said the university would more closely target close contacts of people with confirmed cases and use randomized population testing to track the spread of the virus. Those efforts will amount to 525 saliva tests per week — about 350 of them will be of randomly selected members of the KU community, and the rest will be of close contacts of people with confirmed cases.

“This approach — combining both targeted testing of close contacts and randomized prevalence testing — will allow us to continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in specific populations and provide insights that our Pandemic Medical Advisory Team can use as they make decisions and provide guidance regarding campus operations,” Girod said.

The current mass testing figure of 546 cases is an increase of 72 cases since KU last released data on Friday. Since then, KU reported an additional 844 tests, meaning the most recent batch of tests came back positive at a rate of 8.5%.

Girod acknowledged that the percent positivity rate among the student body had increased recently. In testing completed between Aug. 16 and Aug. 22, Girod said KU received 10,370 student test results, which came back positive at a rate of 2.64%. From Aug. 23 to Aug. 29, Girod said KU received 2,734 test results, which came back positive at a rate of 6.03%.

Wednesday’s data release, Girod said, also included testing from freshmen in fraternities and sororities who were recently added to house rosters, which revealed an additional 62 cases within the greek community.

A total of 3,962 fraternity and sorority members at KU have been tested for COVID-19, and 332 of them have tested positive, accounting for 60.8% of KU’s total case count. The overall percent positive rate of that group dropped slightly since Friday from 10.01% to 8.38%. Girod again praised the greek community for working with the university on improving its health standards.

Overall, KU students account for 96.7% of the university’s total cases — 528 of the total 546. According to KU’s data, 13,801 students who don’t belong to a fraternity or sorority have been tested, and they account for 196 cases. That’s a positivity rate of 1.4% — a much lower rate than their greek life counterparts.

For perspective, if students not in fraternities and sororities were testing positive at the same rate as the greek life population, they would account for 1,156 cases.

Faculty and staff members at KU continue to test positive for COVID-19 at a significantly lower rate than the student body. Though faculty and staff make up an estimated 17.7% of the on-campus population, they’ve only had 16 cases out of 4,513 tests — a rate of only 0.35%.

The Edwards Campus in Overland Park has confirmed two cases of COVID-19 from 323 total tests.

KU on Wednesday still did not specify how many students were in isolation because of the disease and whether they were staying in Naismith Hall — which KU is using as an isolation facility for the academic year — or away from campus. But in his message, Girod praised the initial mass testing program’s efficacy in finding positive cases of COVID-19.

“Our entry testing effort has helped us to identify positive cases, move them into isolation, and remove them from the general community. We’ve reached the point now where many of our initial positive cases have completed isolation requirements and have been cleared to return to campus,” he said. “We know of no cases associated with our entry testing efforts where individuals have required care beyond their physician’s office, including no known hospitalizations.”

Girod also said that KU next week would begin disseminating COVID-19 data in a new way, likely referring to a more interactive and comprehensive dashboard of information related to the status of COVID-19 on campus. Dr. Steve Stites, the chair of KU’s Pandemic Medical Advisory Team, said last week that the university was working on such a dashboard, a feature that many universities across the country have already launched.

It remains unclear how exactly the advisory team, which Girod is a member of, is using the available data to issue recommendations on KU’s operating status, or whether it has recommended any changes to Girod and other university officials based on what the entry testing has shown.

Girod reiterated Wednesday that the results of the entry testing program “so far remain in line with what we’ve expected and are prepared to manage.”

Contact Conner Mitchell

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