New campus-wide COVID-19 testing gets underway

Griffin Sendek/Multimedia Editor. Students assembled in the Genesius Theater to begin the first days of COVID-19 testing. All students, faculty and staff who come to campus for in-person classes will have to undergo asymptomatic testing once every two weeks. Given the colder winter weather, testing has been moved indoors this semester.

Zoe Stratos | Staff Writer



On Feb. 17, Duquesne released an update on campus wide testing to begin the week of Feb. 22 at the Genesius Theater.  Different from the fall semester, this version of testing is required every two weeks for all students who come to campus in any capacity — whether it be to go to the Power Center, classes or even the bookstore. 

To ensure a smooth process for both testing staff and testing students, the university partnered with a platform called SONA to facilitate scheduling and results. 

According to their website, SONA is a cloud-based participant pool management system created to aid administrators, researchers and now universities in launching studies and managing participants for a variety of reasons — COVID-19 test scheduling and tracking now being one of them. 

On-campus students are the first eligible group, with commuters and employees next on the email list to schedule. Upon receiving the email, students will be provided with a link to log into the registration system with DORI credentials. Once logged in, students are met with a page containing the student’s name, email address, birthday, student ID number, phone number and an option to receive email announcements about available studies. 

After confirming personal information, a new acknowledgement page appears with information regarding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the student’s protected health information. Finally, after acknowledgement, a third page appears allowing students to view and sign up for a testing time. 

The SONA software allows for hundreds of appointments per day, and testing is taking place in two multihour sessions: morning and afternoon. 

“Surveillance testing is required for all students,” said Vice President of Marketing and Communications Gabe Welsch. “The SONA system will help to track which students received a test and when. Students who don’t voluntarily get a test every other week will be contacted.” 

Non-compliance of students will result in being prohibited from campus, including residences, with continuing non-compliance resulting in termination of ID card access to campus buildings. Although testing is required for all students, there are some exceptions. 

“Only persons with no symptoms on their daily health screen are eligible for testing,” said Welsch. “Students who are experiencing potential COVID-19 symptoms must contact Duquesne’s Health Services at 412.396.2617 for instructions on appropriate next steps.” 

Also, students who have tested positive for COVID are not eligible to participate in testing until they have surpassed the 90-day window from the date of their positive COVID-19 test result. Students who have received one or both doses of the vaccine are still required to participate, as well. For those who are scheduled for testing, the Genesius Theater is fully equipped for a safe testing process, even though students do the testing themselves. 

“We continue to follow all safety protocols and provide an environment following preventive guidelines for environmental protection, using of PPE by the testing staff, wearing of masks by all volunteers and participants, following safe hygiene practices and maintaining social distancing,” said Welsch. “The COVID testing will be managed by dedicated professional nursing staff who will oversee trained students from the schools of nursing, pharmacy and health sciences.” 

For a quick test turnaround, the university is utilizing the Abbott BinaxNOWTM COVID-19 rapid antigen card, a 15-minute, easy to use nasal swab — similar to the Everlywell testing kits given to students upon their return to campus from winter break. “I got my email on Feb. 18 and got tested today,” said freshman nursing student Shaina Sweeney.  

“You had to first check in, and the process was pretty easy and there was barely a line. You did the test yourself by reading a sign in front of you, and the whole thing took about five minutes.” 

But with the nasal swab being a rapid form of testing and students doing it themselves, the university is preparing for some difficulties that come along with it. 

“Because participants are expected to be asymptomatic at the time of testing, positive results may not be expected,” said Welsch. “Students who do result positive will require prompt follow-up with Duquesne’s Health Services for further evaluation by a medical professional, additional COVID testing, and will be under university protocol for isolation and contact tracing of close contacts.” 

Although Sweeney is pleased with the software and turnaround time, she is still slightly worried about self testing. 

“The software I used to schedule my test was pretty easy to use. Personally, I don’t like doing the tests myself. I would rather have a nurse do it because, to be honest, I don’t know if I’m doing it right and how accurate that’ll make the test. I didn’t realize you do it yourself until I got there.” 

After testing, students must be reachable by phone for at least an hour in the case of a positive result; follow up testing and communication will be provided after. 

Negative results will be sent by email, although positive results are prioritized. 

“I haven’t gotten any results back since I just took it today, but signs said if it is positive you’ll receive a call within the hour and if you’re negative you’ll receive an email within the next 24 hours,” said Sweeney. “I honestly think they should use the same system as they used in the fall when someone took your test for you. Otherwise the whole process wasn’t too bad.”