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UW-Eau Claire antigen testing expands to students living off campus

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire is expanding its free antigen testing for COVID-19 to students who live off campus. Since September, UW-Eau Claire has processed more than 7,500 tests from students who live in on-campus residence halls.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is expanding its free antigen testing for COVID-19 to include students living off campus.

By expanding its rapid testing program, UW-Eau Claire can identify asymptomatic students who interact with community members through various campus-related activities and programs, in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, says Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire’s executive director of equity, diversity and inclusion. Up to 3,000 off-campus students could be tested under the expanded program, Thesing-Ritter says.

“Our goal is to do our very best to prevent community spread,” Thesing-Ritter says.

In September, UW-Eau Claire started antigen testing for about 3,900 students who live in the 11 on-campus residence halls and three university-sponsored housing facilities off campus. The goal is to have residence hall students tested every two weeks.

As of Oct. 14, more than 7,500 UW-Eau Claire student tests had been processed at the McPhee Physical Education Center testing site, with a positivity rate of less than 4 percent.

The campus community has done a tremendous job of following the Blugold Flight Plan, including protocols that require wearing masks, physical distancing and washing hands appropriately, says Chancellor James Schmidt.

“Thanks to faculty, staff and students who are following the many safeguards we’ve put in place, we are able to safely continue our in-person classes,” Schmidt says. “Many Blugolds also pursue internships and other community-related activities that take them into the Eau Claire community. Expanding our free antigen testing to include these students will help to keep the community safe during these unprecedented times.” 

The expanded testing will allow the university to test up to 600 students per day, a significant increase from the 350 students who can currently be tested in a day.

Five testing machines allow antigen results to be available within 30 minutes. Students who test positive are directed to Student Health Service for a more accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Athletic and recreation department employees were reassigned to assist with paperwork and other duties at the testing site.

“It takes a village to get this project up and maintain it,” Thesing-Ritter says.

The additional staff members make the process run smoothly so students can be done with testing as quickly as seven minutes after entering the building.

“It’s like any other team you work with — you have the same goal and that’s to get the process going so everything can run smoothly,” says Zach Hill, athletic equipment manager who works at the testing site. 

UW-Eau Claire students realize the importance of testing for COVID-19, assistant football coach Matt Tomsho says.

“Everyone wants to stay open and students understand they need to get tested,” Tomsho says.

Nom Yang, a freshman kinesiology major from La Crosse, lives in an on-campus residence hall and has had two negative antigen tests at the center, where he also works. Yang says the antigen tests aren’t intrusive and are necessary so students can continue in-person classes. 

“We have to stay safe if we want to stay on campus,” Yang says.