Mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission at a Large Public University
In the Fall of 2020, many universities saw extensive transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among their populations, threatening the health of students, faculty and staff, the viability of in-person instruction, and the health of surrounding communities.1, 2 Here we report that a multimodal "SHIELD: Target, Test, and Tell" program mitigated the spread of SARS-CoV-2 at a large public university, prevented community transmission, and allowed continuation of in-person classes amidst the pandemic. The program
... ombines epidemiological modelling and surveillance (Target); fast and frequent testing using a novel and FDA Emergency Use Authorized low-cost and scalable saliva-based RT-qPCR assay for SARS-CoV-2 that bypasses RNA extraction, called covidSHIELD (Test); and digital tools that communicate test results, notify of potential exposures, and promote compliance with public health mandates (Tell). These elements were combined with masks, social distancing, and robust education efforts. In Fall 2020, we performed more than 1,000,000 covidSHIELD tests while keeping classrooms, laboratories, and many other university activities open. Generally, our case positivity rates remained less than 0.5%, we prevented transmission from our students to our faculty and staff, and data indicate that we had no spread in our classrooms or research laboratories. During this fall semester, we had zero COVID-19-related hospitalizations or deaths amongst our university community. We also prevented transmission from our university community to the surrounding Champaign County community. Our experience demonstrates that multimodal transmission mitigation programs can enable university communities to achieve such outcomes until widespread vaccination against COVID-19 is achieved, and provides a roadmap for how future pandemics can be addressed.