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OU administrators detail new COVID-19 testing requirement for on-campus housing, say no similar plan for off-campus students

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Dale Bratzler

Dr. Dale Bratzler of OU Medicine was named chief COVID officer for the university on June 8.

OU revealed more details regarding their recently announced COVID-19 testing requirement for students living on-campus in a Monday afternoon email.

The university announced July 20 all incoming housing residents will be required to complete a free, at-home COVID-19 test before their arrival Aug. 4–5, and administrators hope Greek life will follow suit. The test is provided by Vault Health — a third-party healthcare vendor — and is the first FDA and Emergency Use Authorization-approved at-home saliva test for free, according to the release.

Results will be emailed to students and OU Health Services up to four days after their test results arrive at the lab. Students must complete an online health screening form five days before their return to campus, according to the release. 

International students will also be tested upon their arrival, and OU’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said in a Zoom call they will live in private housing until their results come back. 

OU plans on housing over 5,000 residents, which is why Bratzler said the university is extremely concerned about students moving into on-campus housing. Bratzler said the free provision of testing, which normally costs around $150, is a precaution OU President Joseph Harroz believes is necessary. 

“If you think about some of our residence halls, they're very big, they hold hundreds of students there, (and) they are … fairly close quarters,” Bratzler said. “Our concern was that if a student moved down on day one, and they were infected with the COVID-19 virus, that we could see some fairly substantial transmission of the virus in the residence halls. So we made the decision that anyone moving into university housing would have to have a negative test before we would let them move in.” 

Currently, Bratzler said OU does not have plans to provide testing to students moving into off-campus housing, as they will not be living in environments with a high risk of spreading the virus. 

“The majority of those are going to be students moving into small apartments — maybe single, double-occupancy apartments (or) small houses with two or three students at a time,” Bratzler said. “And so, yes, there's always the possibility that there could be some students that are infected … but they're not moving into a very large building that has literally hundreds of students that potentially could be infected. So that's why we'll focus on university housing at this time.” 

Students in on-campus housing who test positive will be required to isolate for two weeks, whether that be in private on-campus rooms or at home if a student lives out of state, Bratzler said. He said they will be prohibited from moving back to campus until they can be cleared by OU Health Services. 

“I think the important thing is that we're trying to do everything we possibly can to keep the students, the staff of the university (and) the faculty safe,” Bratzler said. “We will be very explicitly trying to make sure that at least in those big university housing complexes, that we're not moving people in who have tested positive for the virus.” 

Despite Greek houses being independent from OU, Bratzler said OU is also working in tandem with Greek life to encourage COVID-19 testing. 

“We've met with their council this past week to talk about the testing strategy because we're strongly encouraging that they do the same thing,” Bratzler said. “Because again, you're bringing together a lot of students into a relatively small, confined space, (which is a) real concern.”

As students prepare to come to campus, Bratzler said he would encourage students to self-isolate after they are tested and before they arrive on campus to prevent further exposure. 

“Any testing we do for COVID-19 is point-in-time, (meaning) it tells you that day whether you're positive or negative,” Bratzler said. “But if somebody goes out and gets exposed in some setting after that happened … then all bets are off. So we'll be strongly encouraging the students to remain isolated once they do their tests and certainly limit their activities until they arrive on campus.” 

Testing, Bratlzer said, is just one portion of OU’s strategy to combat COVID-19. He said the university has been working diligently to make campus as safe as possible. 

“We will … be doing a routine screening of all students on-campus for symptoms or possible exposures to COVID-19 and we will have robust … contact-tracing and testing of those students. … So (testing) is just one part of a bigger strategy of doing social distancing, physical distancing in the classroom and any outdoor activities as much as possible.” 

Bratzler said it is not a perfect plan, but it's the best OU can presently do to keep members of the OU community safe. 

“It's good news,” Bratzler said. “You hear about all the shortages of testing, but we've really arranged for plenty of testing to be available. I think (OU will have a) fairly robust ability to test students when needed.”

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