Celebrating 200,000 surveillance tests

Design by Lane Elder Student Publications

The Tech community reached a milestone on Jan. 29, surpassing 200,000 individual COVID-19 asymptomatic surveillance tests since the program began.

The surveillance testing program, developed by a team of Tech researchers, aims to detect coronavirus infections as early as possible and stop asymptomatic spread. Tests are free to the Tech community.

All they require are a Tech login to the mytest.gatech.edu website, two minutes of time and a small amount of saliva.

“More than 75% of young people with Covid-19 may not show clinical symptoms — but can still be contagious and easily spread the coronavirus to others,” said Jess Hunts-Ralston, current co-chair of the GT Testing communications group.

To incentivize frequent testing, Hunts-Ralston organizes mass deliveries of Tiff’s Treats, Insomnia Cookies and possibly King of Pops again this semester.

At the return to campus in August 2020, students began getting regularly tested and case numbers rose to a peak seven-day average of 57 positive cases a day. As contact tracers began isolating infectious individuals, the averages dropped to the single digits and stayed low thanks to the surveillance testing.

“Through the work of the logistics and laboratory teams, we are now at a stage where rapid surveillance testing is being used as a form of mitigation to help control viral spread,” said Dr. Joshua Weitz, whose research on epidemic models helped to inform Tech’s testing plan. “Thanks to the incredible work of the logistics and testing community, we have the capacity for comprehensive surveillance testing, so we are getting early warning signs that allow us to detect and respond to outbreaks earlier rather than later.”

Or, put more simply as says the incentive sticker, “Science works, y’all.”

Currently, more than 1,300 positive cases have been detected through the asymptomatic surveillance testing program.

Compared to other Georgia communities, Tech’s participation in surveillance testing soars. On UGA’s health dashboard, they reported just over 44,000 surveillance tests since August 10, under a quarter of Tech’s sum. On a larger scale, the state of Georgia’s federal monthly testing goal is just 4% of the population, compared to the 70% goal of Tech students living on campus. In practice, just over half of residents are participating according to an email update from Housing and Residence Life.

“That number [200,000 tests] means a lot for our community’s health and safety, and we could not have reached this impressive point without our residents who test weekly,” read the Housing department’s update. “Our data shows that about 60% of residents are keeping up their testing routine – the other 40% of you are missing out on cookies and stickers! As a reminder, having 70-80% of our residents test weekly is necessary to identify and stop clusters from spreading in the halls.”

Yellow Jackets can continue to participate in weekly testing in seven main locations across campus. Even as vaccination rollouts puts herd immunity within reach, continuing these safety practices through the remainder of the semester is vital.

“The current recommendations from the CDC are, even if you’ve had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, you still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing, because we don’t know yet if you can spread the virus after being vaccinated,” said STAMPS Director Dr. Ben Holton. “We are encouraging people to continue getting tested after they have had the vaccine.”