By Austin Boland-Ferguson
In response to student concerns and changing NCAA requirements, Rider University secured inventories of multiple types of COVID-19 tests and plans to roll out a trial of random testing starting in October, according to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning Debbie Stasolla.
According to the university’s numbers, the first three weeks of remote classes were relatively free of the spread of COVID-19, only confirming one case on Sept. 1. Since hybrid-form classes started on Sept. 21, the university confirmed one case of COVID-19 on Sept. 22.
As of Sept. 2, according to Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown, Rider had access to 100 nasal tests from Quest Diagnostics and was in the process of acquiring 100 saliva test kits from Accurate Diagnostics.
In an interview with The Rider News on Sept. 22, Stasolla said the university secured those 100 saliva tests and arranged a contract with both companies to maintain an inventory of both types of tests at all times.
“Whether it’s the nasal swabs or the saliva tests, we have arrangements with the two companies,” Stasolla said. “When our inventory gets to a certain point, we can reorder another 25 or 50 tests.” Stasolla added that when tests are restocked will be determined by the respective companies the tests come from.
Stasolla also said that Rider received an order of “a couple of thousand” rapid antigen tests. Rapid antigen tests are fast-acting tests with the goal of detecting the presence of viral antigens, which imply current infection of a particular virus and usually return results within 30 minutes.
“[The tests] are something we ordered earlier in the summer, so now we’re waiting on the machines to be able to analyze those tests,” Stasolla said.
The factor holding back the university from receiving more tests earlier, Stasolla said, was access to to the tests themselves. According to the New Jersey Department of Health’s Director of Communications Donna Leusner, a 1980 Rider graduate, statewide access to testing has been a different story.
“[New Jersey] is getting all of the coronavirus tests it needs,” Leusner said.
According to Stasolla, the university has plans to start “surveillance testing,” or random testing, in early October to accommodate student needs and everchanging NCAA testing requirements.
“We would start with our residential students and, perhaps, if commuting students are interested, we would have to figure that out,” Stasolla said about surveillance testing. “We would do it in conjunction with testing that will likely be required by the NCAA for men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling [teams], but even there the NCAA keeps postponing its decision, so we’re trying to keep up with non-decisions and changing decisions.”
The status of the NCAA’s policy on testing students and student-athletes has also held up the university from being able to allocate its rapid antigen tests for use on campus.
“How we will use those tests will depend on what we’re required to do by the NCAA,” Stasolla said.
Should the university be able to use its rapid antigen tests for surveillance testing of resident students, Stasolla said that testing process would have to be frequent.
“[Rapid tests] can be used for surveillance testing if they’re used frequently, like three times a week,” Stasolla said. “If you only do it one time a week, it’s not good to use for that purpose.”
If surveillance testing goes well in the fall, Stasolla said the university has plans to expand its surveillance testing program for the Spring 2021 semester.
In agreeance with recent advice from the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci and Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx, the university has opened quarantine and isolation housing for any residential student that may need it.
“Originally, we were going to ask residential students who lived within 75 miles of Rider to go home to quarantine and isolate,” Stasolla said. “Because of recent guidance that was shared and because we have additional space on campus … we have since decided and have been communicating that we will accommodate any residential student, no matter how far you live from Rider, to quarantine or isolate on campus.”
Stasolla also said that Rider has made plans to increase its capacity for both quarantine and isolation housing, which would bring the total amount of quarantine spaces from 100 to 160 and isolation spaces from 22 to about 50. Spaces utilized would include Conover Hall, a combination of the greek houses on campus, including University House and property that the university owns on nearby West Long Drive in Lawrenceville.
Should quarantine and isolation housing begin to near its capacities, Stasolla warned that there would be a “good chance” Rider moves to remote instruction and sends students home as opposed to trying to isolate and quarantine students on the Princeton campus.
“The Princeton campus is considered a last resort, because then we have to be mindful of having students several miles down the road,” Stasolla said.
Ultimately, Stasolla believes that a surveillance testing program will help the Rider community better understand the situation concerning COVID-19 around them.
“We’ve heard students loud and clear about their interest in doing some sort of random testing so that we have a better idea of the degree to which COVID may be in our community or not,” Stasolla said.