Researchers at the University of Windsor have launched a pilot project for on-campus COVID-19 testing in hopes it lays the foundation for a safe return to in-person learning.
The three-phase project started earlier this month with 30 volunteers from the science faculty’s Centre of Research (CORe) building.
Participants collect a saliva sample and turn it in for weekly testing. Results are given through a cellphone app.
Chemistry professor Yufeng Tong developed the rapid PCR test being used for the project with funding from a WE-Spark Health Institute grant.
“Screening is quite a straightforward process,” said lead researcher and biomedical science professor Lisa Porter. “We have all the equipment, the same kind of equipment as public health. Screening asymptomatic people is critical to ensuring students can come back for face-to-face learning.”
As far as she knows, UWindsor is the first university in Ontario and perhaps Canada to do this sort of testing as a means to ensure the health and safety of students on campus.
The team recently began collaborating with UWindsor biochemist Kenneth Ng, who is studying SARS-CoV-2 variants.
“The team recognizes the power of tapping into the wastewater stream as a tool for discovery of SARS-CoV-2 variants,” McKay said. “In fact, we are already testing for the B.1.1.7 variant of concern in our wastewater samples from Windsor-Essex and samples are sent weekly to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Lab for sequencing analysis.”
Phase III is expected to launch in September when the team has built up the capacity to test everyone that steps on campus at both St. Clair and UWindsor.
Such widespread testing is critical to bringing all students back to in-person classes according to Chris Houser, the dean of science.
“Several large studies looking at entire populations have shown that between 30 and 45 per cent of the COVID positive population actually are asymptomatic,” Houser said. “This is an important variable that has allowed for spread and evolution of the virus. Rather than being reactive and waiting for those that have symptoms, screening the asymptomatic population allows for individuals to better protect everyone around them.”
This week, the University of Windsor kicked off a pilot program to test if rapid COVID-19 testing on-campus helps to stem cases within the university community. Participants provide a saliva sample for weekly testing. Researchers deliver test results to the participants through a mobile app.
Chemistry professor Yufeng Tong developed the rapid PCR test being used for the project with funding from a WE-Spark Health Institute grant. “Screening asymptomatic people is critical to ensuring students can come back for face-to-face learning,” lead researcher and biomedical science professor Lisa Porter told the Windsor Star.
Researchers involved with the pilot believe this is the first project of its kind at a university in Ontario. They are working in collaboration with scientists at Vanderbilt University in the United States.