Penn State launches Testing and Surveillance Center for University Park students

September 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As part of the University’s testing and contact tracing plan shared during a July 30 community town hall, Penn State has launched the Testing and Surveillance Center (TASC), to be used for random asymptomatic surveillance testing at the University Park campus.

With the opening of TASC, the University will shift the University Park student portion of its random, daily surveillance testing from Vault Health testing to this in-house option. The lab, which is working with Penn State experts and using many existing University resources, will process the tests in groups – or pools – initially five at a time, or an adjusted number, as needed. The University will follow the CDC guidelines in reporting pooled sampling procedures for this laboratory process.

“Pool testing is an efficient disease surveillance method used to assess what percentage of the University’s population may be infectious and to identify community trends,” said Suresh Kuchipudi, clinical professor and associate director of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. “Surveillance testing of individuals without COVID-19 symptoms allows the University to monitor positive asymptomatic cases and determine the need for additional mitigation steps.”

The first floor of the HUB Parking Deck is open for TASC workers to collect samples from students randomly identified for this surveillance testing. Other convenient, quick-collection sites are being set up in geographically dispersed locations on the University Park campus. While the sample is collected through a nasal swab, it is a self-administered superficial swab – not the deeper swab used for diagnostic on-demand testing for those showing symptoms. 

If selected, students will be contacted by email and text message to answer a few screening questions and to schedule an appointment at a designated campus location. Students are required to complete the free testing and should plan to do so within 48-72 hours after being contacted.

“The University has invested in staffing and significant automation of testing capabilities to increase the availability and improve turn-around time of our existing resources to meet the needs of this important surveillance testing component of the plan,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Coupled with other on-demand testing resources and our robust contact tracing program, this in-house testing capability will bolster the University’s multi-layered approach to control the spread of the virus on the campus.”

Since the random TASC testing is surveillance testing at a population level, no individual results will be sent back to students. However, should a pool test result come back as indeterminate, the University’s contact tracing team will reach out to all five individuals for further individual diagnostic testing at University Health Services (UHS) and give guidance to isolate until those results come back. 

Once tests are validated the results will be included on the dashboard. The University dashboard presents data that is available and collected at a single point in time and the data will continue to change and be updated as the University receives additional results from our testing processes. For this reason, the dashboard when updated and posted with new data, is only a snapshot at one point in time and cannot be considered a final report. 

Kuchipudi, whose research focuses on generating knowledge that can underpin the development of novel diagnostic tools and intervention therapies for endemic and emerging viral diseases of animals and humans, led the creation of the TASC. In building TASC, Penn State is leveraging and building upon existing expertise and University resources.

Required surveillance COVID-19 testing across Commonwealth Campuses, as well as faculty and staff at University Park, will continue to use current vendor testing.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or is suspicious of COVID-19, contact University Health Services, your campus health center, or your primary care provider.

For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including frequently asked questions and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.

Last Updated September 09, 2020