Towson University opened a new COVID-19 testing facility last month in an effort to expedite its testing procedures and reduce the number of cases on campus.
Now students can receive rapid tests, allowing the university to administer more than 10 times as many tests in the spring semester than in the fall semester, the university reported.
Through the facility, the university plans to administer 4,600 tests per week this semester, compared with 455 a week last semester.
Situated on the ground floor of the West Village Garage, the facility will serve the 1,700 students living on campus, plus those commuting to campus for in-person classes.
At the garage site, students receive a rapid response test that gives the result in 15 minutes. For confirmation of a positive test, a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test, which produces results in 24 hours, would then be administered. The University Health Center test site at the school also remains open for faculty and staff, and those tests are strictly PCR.
This semester, 85% of classes at Towson University are being offered remotely, while hybrid — courses containing an in-person and online component — and in-person courses are conducted at previously determined, reduced capacities in accordance with federal, state and local health and safety guidance, according to the university website.
All students, both residential and commuter, are required to have rapid tests biweekly.
Of the 5,095 Towson faculty, staff and students tested between Feb. 19 and March 4, 66 tested positive, putting the university at a 1.3% positivity rate, 1.86 percentage points less than the county positivity rate, according to the university’s testing data.
Anthony Skevakis, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, said the university constructed the 6,000-square-foot West Village facility to make testing more accessible. The West Village site makes for a short walk for students who are on campus, and its garage locations is convenient for those who commute.
“Our initial testing center began at the health center, and we needed to expand our operations,” he said. “The primary purpose of expanding is that we basically had [to administer] 10 times the number of tests that we were doing to about 5,000 tests a week and we wanted to make sure that we were here for our core testing group of students to be able to come and access the testing center.”
He said the facility was designed to be a comfortable and convenient testing experience.
“We worked with our facilities team to provide a grand vision of the major things that we would need to have take place,” he said. “We had to look for something that was sizable enough that we could have enough space for testing to be done, but then also have a waiting area [where] students are appropriately distanced and at the same time have their results read.”
Those arriving at the facility are greeted by a volunteer who lets them know what they need for registration.
Once they are registered, the students are directed to the testing site, where they take a nasal swab test, which is later scanned into the university’s computer database.
After the test, they are guided to a station where their test results are available in 15 minutes.
Bruce Griffin, chief compliance and risk officer, said the facility has changed at least some of the way testing is performed on campus.
“The biggest change is switching from PCR [polymerase chain reaction], which is a 24-hour test that has to be sent off-site for processing to using this rapid response test where the test is administered and read right on site,” he said. “This [test] allows us to do a lot of students quickly and know before they leave the facility if there is a chance that they are positive.”
Griffin said he is grateful for those at the university who worked to make the facility a reality.
“It is important that we continue to move toward [moving] more and more students, faculty and staff back on campus,” he said. “This is a big tool in us being able to increase our density this year by this spring and will continue to be through the spring term.”
Adrian Battle, 20, a junior studying film and theater while serving as a resident adviser, receives a rapid test twice a week.
He said the experience at the facility is convenient and efficient and has helped protect faculty, staff and students.
“[The university] is doing a pretty good job of keeping it so not everybody is in there all at once,” he said. “[The facility] is a good way to make sure everybody is doing what they need to to stay on campus and be safe.”