Everyone returning to KU’s campus in the fall will be tested for COVID-19, Girod says; masks will be required

photo by: Associated Press

Students cross Jayhawk Boulevard in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Updated at 5:46 p.m. Wednesday

The University of Kansas will conduct COVID-19 saliva testing for all students, faculty and staff who return to campus for the fall semester, Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a video message Wednesday.

The saliva test KU is planning on using in coordination with Clinical Reference Laboratory in Lenexa, however, might not yet have an Emergency Use Authorization granted by the Food and Drug Administration, the Journal-World learned Wednesday afternoon. If that’s the case, the university and Clinical Reference Laboratory would not be able to offer the testing yet.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, confirmed that an EUA would be required for whatever test KU does ultimately use.

“If that’s the test they were going to use, it can’t be used without an Emergency Use Authorization,” he told the Journal-World in a brief interview in Topeka. “I think they’re hoping that … we’ve heard that the approval is imminent.”

The FDA has approved saliva-based COVID-19 tests for other select areas of the country, but has not issued a wide-ranging approval.

KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said there is a method of saliva testing approved by the FDA in which saliva is collected under a health care provider’s supervision to ensure it’s done correctly. The Journal-World could not immediately find an EUA for broad approval of saliva testing.

KU will only use methods with EUA approval from the FDA, Barcomb-Peterson said.

In Wednesday morning’s video message, Girod said that some logistics of the plan still have to be worked through.

“This is the safest way to get our campus open,” Girod said. “We want to make sure we start the year out with as healthy of a campus as we can in the fall.”

The video was not clear on who exactly would be conducting the testing, or whether community members potentially could use at-home collection kits to collect a sample — a possibility that other areas of the country with FDA-approved saliva tests have utilized.

A spokesperson for LMH Health, which KU has listed as a partner in past communications about its testing plan, said the hospital is not conducting the testing and is referring questions about it to KU’s Watkins Health Services.

Girod did not elaborate in the video message on what KU’s testing program might cost the university or whether any outside funding had been secured.

The university is still planning its methodology for how contact tracing will be conducted once the semester begins, but Girod did say that on-campus housing at the university would be setting aside rooms for quarantine if students do exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the respiratory virus.

Girod also confirmed Wednesday that masks would be required on KU’s campus in the fall. On June 18, the university announced an indefinite mandatory mask policy for anyone in public spaces on the KU campuses, but it was unclear how or whether the policy would extend into the school year.

Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer, who appeared in the weekly video message with Girod, said that her office was still working on how the policy would be enforced, but said it would likely be similar to how violations of student and faculty codes of conduct are currently handled at KU.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.