WMU now has rapid-result COVID-19 testing

Contact: Joy Brown

Dr. Carla Essling from Sindecuse Health Center administers a nasal swab to collect a sample for COVID-19 antigen testing.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University’s Sindecuse Health Center has become one of the few sites in Kalamazoo County to offer rapid-result antigen testing that detects active COVID-19 cases. This latest testing option will help safeguard the University and greater Kalamazoo community, and assist the institution with campus return plans.

“The biggest advantage to WMU providing the rapid-result antigen test is to assess the local, immediate people around us and to keep everyone safe,” says Jessica Slates, director nursing at Sindecuse.

University students, faculty, staff, retirees and their dependents, along with Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College employees and students, are eligible to use the health center for antigen testing, which quickly detects fragments of proteins found on or within the virus by testing samples collected from nasal cavity swabs and produces same-day results. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the test for nationwide use in early May.

Sindecuse has been offering COVID-19 tests for several weeks, but those tests, which must be sent to testing facilities, have traditionally taken much longer to produce results. The antigen test, however, can offer results within 15 minutes,  Slates says. Test takers can access results either by phone or by accessing their online health center records.

Dr. Gayle Ruggiero, medical director, said the ability to offer rapid-result testing is “a big score because it allows us to be able to quickly determine who is positive and to provide them with the needed information to isolate and decrease the possibility of spread. The quick and widespread ability to test has been a key factor that allows areas to open up in a safe way.”

Sindecuse gained access to testing equipment and supplies needed to provide this service with an appeal to the leadership team at Quidel Corp., a large American manufacturer of diagnostic healthcare products. It also earned the required FDA Emergency Use Authorization permission to administer the test. The reasons cited for granting special testing status to WMU’s health center include the population it serves, specifically:

  • Younger people who may have active, but asymptomatic infection and spread the disease;
  • People living in congregate settings such as shared apartments and residence halls;
  • Vulnerable populations, such as those who are lower-income, people of color and international students; and
  • Critical infrastructure employees, especially health care workers and first responders.

By understanding how the virus is impacting students, faculty, staff and their dependents, crucial academic and operational decisions about the fall semester can be informed with data, Sindecuse officials say.

A sample being prepared at Sindecuse Health Center for a COVID-19 antigen test.

Positive test results will be reported to the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department, which will also ensure inclusion in state and federal counts. Sindecuse Health Center will follow up with those who test positive to ensure they are receiving care from their primary health care provider and are quarantining as required. The health center will also work with county health officials to identify those whom had contact with the infected person.

Testing is optional, although the University is adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by recommending those who regularly come in contact with many others get tested, no matter if they feel sick or not. Dr. Ruggiero said the CDC recommends those who work in critical infrastructure positions be tested even if not symptomatic due to the risk of exposure to many others.

“You should get tested and repeat testing if it is negative and you become symptomatic in the future,” Dr. Ruggiero says.

The cost to take the test will depend on a variety of factors, including each person’s health insurance provider; many providers are waiving fees for COVID-19 treatment for those who are symptomatic and test positive for the virus.

Symptomatic people and those who know they’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive can make an appointment with the health center for a drive-up visit for the swab test. Those who are asymptomatic can schedule an appointment at the health center; entry will require an initial health screening. Testing priority will be given to those who may have the most exposure to positive-testing individuals, such as critical infrastructure workers in the community and frontline health care workers as well as symptomatic individuals.

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