UofSC ramps up COVID-19 testing amid anticipated spike in cases

UofSC President Bob Caslen says he's confident students will adhere to social distancing guidelines

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — With the University of South Carolina just about to start classes, President Bob Caslen says he’s confident his students will try to keep each other safe.

However, he also says he’s not afraid to make classes fully virtual again if students don’t follow the rules.

In the past week, several colleges, including the University of North Carolina and the University of Notre Dame, have gone back to virtual learning after briefly reopening their campuses.

Caslen says he has talked to several students, including groups of incoming freshmen, over the last few weeks, and says they are up to the challenge to keep each other safe.

“They know how serious this incident is and how serious this situation is. They all know how to keep themselves in the middle of this, and by keeping themselves healthy, they’ll keep other people healthy as well,” Caslen said. 

To date, the university has tested more than 8,000 students and staff on campus, averaging about six positive tests per day.

Now with a new saliva tested at their disposal, which was developed by UofSC’s College of Pharmacy, university officials expect to administer more tests, but also anticipate a spike in cases.

“Those numbers will go up as we repopulate our campus. We know that we’re going to be able to test our students and immediately put them into isolation and quarantine, and be able to help control any spike we may see on our campus over the next several months,” said Dr. Deborah Beck, the Vice President of Health and Wellness at the University of South Carolina.

On the university’s campus, there’s a station where students can deposit about 5 mg of saliva into a tube, and it goes to a lab on campus, where the turnaround time can range between 24 and 48 hours.

“It’s definitely different from what I’m used to,” said Ore Oluwole, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. “It takes a little more time than the nasal swab, but I think it’s a very good and effective way to test more people.

If a student does test positive, they will be taken to an isolation area on campus, and staff will make sure they have food and internet access. 

Student leadership has also launched #IPledgeColumbia, an initiative where students promise to adhere to social distancing and look out for each other’s well-being this semester.

“I just hope not a lot of people are testing positive, and if they are, they stay safe, and stay away from people who aren’t sick,” said Mykel Warren, a junior at the University of South Carolina. “I’m hoping we get to stay in school a lot longer than we got to last year, because I like being here.

Caslen says they’ve taken a measured approach to start the semester, but is also aware things could change. He says students have done a good job wearing masks and practicing social distancing on campus, but also says the university has installed cameras to make sure these protocols are followed.

He says it’s up to students to keep each other safe and avoid high-risk activities, like going to bars or having house parties, this semester.

“Our plan is thorough but it is also nimble. We will not hesitate to go fully online as we did last March if student behavior does not match my confidence in them,” Caslen said.

The University of South Carolina begins the fall semester on Thursday. A spokesperson for the university says 60% will be either in-person or utilizing a hybrid model.

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