University switches to test-out system for COVID-positive undergraduates
All undergraduates are now required to obtain a negative rapid antigen test result to leave isolation, a policy shift that some say will unduly burden the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Regina Sung, Photo Editor
The University expanded its isolation test-out program on Monday to include all undergraduates who test positive for COVID-19, regardless of their isolation location.
Christine Chen ’93, chief of student health at Yale Health, announced the development in a community-wide email on March 3. Previously, only undergraduates who live on campus were required to obtain a negative test result before leaving isolation. Off-campus students, exempt from the test-out requirement, were released after seven days of isolation.
“The rapid antigen tests help identify who is, or is not, still at high risk of transmitting COVID-19,” Chen wrote. “This process allows us to customize the duration of isolation for each student while also keeping the community safer.”
Infected students can begin taking proctored rapid antigen tests on day five of their isolation period – the date of a student’s positive test represents day zero. Chen noted in her email that the Yale Resulting Team determines on a case-by-case basis whether previous inconclusive results can be used as the start date for a positive student’s isolation period.
Inconclusive results were introduced to the University’s testing program last year as a new type of result. Madeline Wilson, chief quality officer at Yale Health, told the News that the vast majority of inconclusive results represent a “very early or very late infection,” and that individuals who receive such a result should obtain a follow-up test.
University protocols dictate that other members of the Yale community – including graduate and professional students, faculty and staff – isolate for seven days after testing positive. In a statement to the News last week, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd characterized the policy as “more conservative” than guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintaining that the timeline had been “identified by Yale’s public health advisors as a prudent interval.”
“There is variability in how long individuals remain infectious with COVID-19, as mentioned above,” Chen wrote. “This is not necessarily an indication of an immunocompromised state or unusual viral strain. Please be prepared for a potentially longer stay in isolation.”
Chen noted that students may test out earlier or later than the seven-day standard based on the course of individual infections — especially now that all undergraduates may begin testing out on day five. Roughly half of all students in the test-out program test out on day five, Chen wrote, citing the University’s “most recent data for students in a twice weekly testing cadence.” Ninety percent of students test out by day seven, she added, with the last 10 percent obtaining a negative result between days eight and 13.
Students who test positive are exempt from the University’s regular PCR testing requirements for 90 days because “ongoing viral shedding may cause a positive test even after symptoms have resolved and the individual is no longer infectious,” according to Yale’s COVID-19 information website. Still, Chen stated that a positive result on a rapid antigen test indicates an “ongoing infectious state” and necessitates that students remain in isolation until they obtain a negative result.
“These situations are never so black and white because there are various implications to consider, but I believe that having students who’ve tested positive (even after Yale’s standard isolation period) remain in isolation can be a benefit to the entirety of the student body,” Roaa Shaheen ’24, director of health and safety policy for the Yale College Council, wrote in a statement to the News. “Of course, this calls into the issue of academics – missing classes, assignments, exams – though in that case, the question really becomes a matter of proper academic accommodations on the part of Yale faculty and administration.”
Accompanying the policy shift is a new partnership with the digital platforms NAVICA and eMed. According to Chen, isolating students will now receive an email on their fourth day of isolation with instructions for setting up an account with NAVICA, an app designed by Abbott Laboratories to pair with its BinaxNOW tests and store results. Students will also receive directions for scheduling a proctored rapid antigen test with eMed.
Chen emphasized that under the new partnership, only specially-marked BinaxNOW tests provided by the University will be considered valid for testing out of isolation. Results from student-purchased tests will not be accepted, she wrote.
But there are potential complications stemming from the new partnership, namely that the system might unduly burden the state of Connecticut’s resources.
According to one tweet, the University’s switch from an internal to external test-out system means that now, NAVICA must separately report all positive results to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Though the positives represent follow-up results from individuals who have already tested positive at least five days prior, state protocol dictates that DPH must treat those results as new cases and initiate contact-tracing efforts accordingly.
“[This] feels like a very inefficient use of state resources, which is only happening because [Y]ale decided to outsource the isolation testing because it was too resource intensive for them to do internally so now that is the state’s problem,” the author wrote. “[T]he woman [I] spoke to was super nice, but also was like ‘[I] need to tell my supervisor because this is going to cause an influx of cases,’ which raises additional questions about how effectively [Y]ale is sharing [public health] data in the first place.”
Wilson wrote in a statement to the News that the author of the Twitter thread “raises a good point.” Positive results from students in the new test-out program will be reported to the state of residence students select and would represent duplicates of their initial positive tests, Wilson confirmed.
Wilson told the News that she has reached out to DPH about the issue.
“They may have a routine protocol for identifying and removing duplicates, as repeat testing is not an uncommon phenomenon,” Wilson wrote. “I do not think that additional effort will be expended at the state level, as it is well known that Yale does all of its own contact tracing.”
“By the way, DPH was consulted in January and is in full support of our test out approach,” Wilson added.
Yale Health is located at 55 Lock St.