After a successful practice run of its new in-house COVID-19 testing capabilities Wednesday morning, University of Idaho leaders say they plan for all students to be tested before the semester’s Aug. 24 start and results of those tests will be available in 24 hours.

UI Director of Communications Jodi Walker said the school decided early it would need to manage its own tests if it wanted to conduct them in high enough volume to allow students to return for in-person instruction in the fall.

“By that I don’t mean just the swabbing portion — in collaboration with Gritman Medical Center, we have set up our own lab,” Walker said. “We will be able to not only do the swabbing our students, faculty and staff need but we will be able to actually run those tests to shorten the timeframe between testing and results.”

Walker said every student returning to the UI’s Moscow campus will be required to undergo a nasopharyngeal swab capable of identifying stray particles of coronavirus RNA before they may attend class in person or live in a residence hall.

In an email sent to UI faculty and staff Tuesday, UI President Scott Green reiterated the school’s commitment to returning to in-person instruction in the face of nearby Washington State University’s decision to conduct the fall semester online.

“This is only possible because we have made truly incredible progress working with healthcare experts and our partners at Gritman Medical Center to design specific safety protocols,” the message said. “We continue to implement a uniquely robust set of safety measures — including required testing of all students — to provide effective learning and work environments and a campus that is as safe as possible for students, faculty and staff.”

In order to assess the speed and efficiency of its new testing capability in a controlled environment, the UI asked for 50 volunteers to sign up for the trial run. About 120 signed up, Walker said. She said when volunteers set up on the lawn of the school’s Student Recreation Center Wednesday morning, Green was the first in line to be tested. She said it went much faster than anticipated.

“It is a real test people will get real results but it really is being used as a test of what can we do — and it went great,” Walker said, saying the staff from Gritman administering the tests played a large part in the trial’s success. “That just helps us feel even more secure in this plan that yes, we can indeed test all students when they come back to campus.”

Walker said it is still uncertain just how many tests the UI will be able to process in a day but the plan is to have students sign up for a schedule of tests as they arrive.

Most years, Walker said students don’t arrive on campus all at once but typically come in waves spaced out in the weeks leading up to the first day of fall classes. She said move-in day, traditionally a large-scale university event involving many volunteers, has been scaled back and split into five days to allow for better observation of social distancing guidelines.

She said testing will also be available to staff and faculty but will not be required.

Scott Jackson can be reached by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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