The colleges that took the pandemic seriously

Lab work is only one part of a testing system. Collecting a huge quantity of samples was an additional logistical nightmare. But at IU, we realized that our event staff—which has experience at moving massive numbers of people and equipment for football and basketball games, concerts, and commencements—could run our testing operation. Our information-technology services, adept at collecting and processing data as well as building websites and apps, could create dashboards, set up tracking systems, and process test results. And when other institutions found ways to innovate, we copied them. In our own backyard, Purdue University announced that it would develop its own COVID-19 testing lab. We committed to opening labs of our own and looked around for a cheap method of testing a lot of people quickly. We eventually chose a saliva-based testing method pioneered by the University of Illinois.

After purchasing liquid-handling robots and PCR machines and training a testing staff, we aimed for 25,000 tests a week in January. When students return to campus in February, we plan to test about 50,000 people a week to detect any viral surges like the ones we and other colleges saw in the fall. Our labs have become so efficient that we expect many of these test results to be returned on the same day a sample is taken. When individuals test positive on campus, our contact-tracing team gets in touch immediately and makes arrangements to isolate them in housing reserved for this purpose. Close contacts are also identified and instructed to quarantine following CDC guidelines.