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Hope College screening wastewater, conducting surveillance testing to limit COVID-19

Hope College is testing 1% of its student population each weekday.

HOLLAND, Mich. — Universities and colleges have been thrust into the public eye since reopening for in-person classes this semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic. West Michigan institutions like Hope College started its coronavirus testing before students moved onto campus, and with classes now in session, they’ve created isolation and quarantine zones to students deemed positive or at risk for the virus.

The college found 38 cases in students before the school year kicked off and just last week found four more positive tests. Jennifer Fellinger who leads the school’s COVID Response Team Steering Committee said Hope College tests 1% of the student population every weekday.

“That’s considered surveillance testing, and then of course we test any student who is symptomatic as well,” Fellinger explained. “On top of that we also are testing wastewater for the presence of the virus. So we’re watching the levels of the virus in the wastewater, and if we see a spike that’s a prompt to us to test residence of a particular zone.”

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If a student tests positive for the virus or starts displaying symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, they will be assigned an isolation unit on campus. Those who are deemed “close contacts” to someone who tests positive will be assigned to a quarantine unit on campus. There are around 126 units all together. Locations of both buildings are being kept private to ensure students’ privacy.

“Within six feet of someone for more than 15 minutes, you’re considered a close contact,” Fellinger said. “Most likely the quarantine housing will be more full than the isolation housing…for every one positive there’s X number of close contacts.”

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Students who enter into either isolation or quarantine units will each be assigned two advocates from the school. One will ensure they are in the correct housing facility and are well cared for. The other will help them prepare for the contract tracing investigation.

“Early on we recognized the need was not just to put a student into isolation or quarantine housing but to make sure they’re really cared for. So that even when they’re in that situation they’re still a member of that community. They’re still engaging in that community, even if they’re in a space they have to stay in for a while,” Fellinger said.

Hope College is working in collaboration with the Ottawa County Health Department to track and contain cases.

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