Analysis Finds Many Colleges Aren’t Conducting Widespread COVID-19 Testing

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Photo of a COVID-19 test

Many of the colleges and universities that are holding classes on campus this fall are not conducting widespread coronavirus testing of their students, according to an NPR analysis released on Tuesday. The lack of testing extends to schools that are located in COVID-19 hotspots.

NPR analyzed data collected from over 1,400 colleges and universities by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College. The analysis found that more than 2 out of 3 colleges with in-person classes do not have a well-defined testing plan or have only tested at-risk students, usually when they were feeling sick or had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Only 25 percent of colleges with in-person classes and more than 5,000 undergraduate students are conducting mass screening or random testing of students, NPR’s analysis determined. Only six percent are routinely testing all their students, and instead many are testing only symptomatic students.

Experts believe that this kind of diagnostic testing is not enough to control outbreaks and can understate the true number of cases. Forty percent of people with the coronavirus do not show symptoms, and research from this summer found that the majority of COVID-19 transmissions can be attributed to asymptomatic carriers.

One of the primary reasons there has not been more widespread testing on campuses is due to the high cost of acquiring coronavirus tests, which can run more than $100 each.

Last month, the American Council on Education and other higher education groups requested at least $120 billion from Congress to help colleges and universities with increased costs due to the pandemic, which included COVID-19 testing.

The NPR analysis comes shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its coronavirus testing guidance for higher education institutions on September 30 to suggest more screening could help stem the spread of the virus.