MTU COVID-19 lab prepares to test student population

Western UP

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – Michigan Technological University (MTU) students are planning their return to classes this Fall, alongside thousands of other students in the Upper Peninsula. In the midst of a pandemic, changes are being made and COVID-19 testing is underway.

When MTU’s COVID-19 lab first opened, they were testing about fifteen samples a day in a classroom and research lab. Four months later, they are now running about 80 samples a day at the Great Lakes Research Center on campus. At the end of July, they conducted around 4,200 COVID-19 tests, making 98 percent of tests ran by the lab just for the community.

Caryn Heldt, MTU’s COVID-19 lab manager and professor of chemical engineering, said the lab has tested very little of MTU’s campus population these past few months. As students return, however, that will change.

“We will be testing about 3,000 students as they come on campus, which is about 40 percent of our population. And then going forward we will be doing surveillance of the campus Monday through Friday on almost a daily basis. So, we will continue to keep an eye on what the campus health is,” said Heldt.

August 19 through August 27, MTU’s COVID-19 lab will not be taking community samples, but focusing on gathering those 3,000 samples from students. Those student samples are by volunteer only. Emails will be sent out and students can choose to partake in this sampling.

The lab will switch from diagnostic testing to pooled testing. This means a portion of a student’s sample will be combined with portions of four other samples to create a sample pool. To read more about that, you can click here. This will allow the lab to test up to 500 samples per day, instead of 80 individual samples.

Although staffing the lab has been an issue, Heldt said this experience has been a journey and beneficial for MTU.

“We’ve really been able to show that we can provide great services for our community. And I hope it really helps strengthen the bond that Michigan Tech has with the Houghton-Hancock area.”.

MTU students and staff are expected to self-monitor themselves for any symptoms of illness. When on campus, they are required to fill out a COVID-19 Daily Symptom Tracking Form daily. Face coverings will be required on campus. COVID-19 tests are also free on campus this Fall for students.

To read more about MTU’s back-to-school plan, you can click here.

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