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University System of Maryland to require COVID-19 testing this fall

Testudo overlooks McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland in College Park. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

Testudo overlooks McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland in College Park. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

 

The University System of Maryland announced Thursday that students, faculty and staff returning to all of its campuses must be tested for COVID-19 within 14 days prior to arrival. Students and employees must also submit official confirmation of a negative result to university officials.

USM’s 11 universities, which are typically home to over 170,000 students, will also implement additional infection prevention and control protocols and work with individuals if complications arise as they attempt to get tested, according to a statement released Thursday.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 prior to arriving at a USM campus will not be allowed to return until a required period of isolation has been met, the system said. Those who test positive after arriving on campus will consult with university officials regarding medical follow-up and isolation requirements.

The announcement comes amid an intense national debate over reopening the nation’s schools — from kindergarten up to universities.

USM policies were developed in response to increases in COVID-19’s spread. Institutions engaged in involved and intentional discussions among themselves and worked closely with the Maryland Department of Health and its local jurisdictions, said Joann Boughman, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at USM.

USM also took guidance from its professors with expertise in medicine and public health. Officials said adhering to testing, symptom monitoring and disease mitigation protocols are essential, for both safety and the ability to resume and sustain in-person instruction this fall.

Maryland’s cases, which started decreasing in late May and began increasing again at the beginning of July, have not been accelerating as rapidly as much of the nation’s. Right now, Maryland’s seven-day-averages total out to 873 cases and 10 deaths daily, according to data from the New York Times.

Prince George’s County has the highest rates of infection and death per capita in the state. One out of 40 residents has reportedly been infected with COVID-19. One out of 1,200 has died.

USM’s largest campus, the University of Maryland, College Park, is in Prince George’s County. The university last year enrolled over 40,000 students, and it plans to welcome some of them back on Aug. 31.  Population on campuses will be quite limited, a fraction of what would occur under more traditional circumstances like fall 2019, said Mike Lurie, media relations and web manager at USM.

Boughman said the system hopes students will be able to access nearby testing sites, which are often provided at no cost or covered by health care providers. Some USM campuses, like College Park, will set up testing sites on their grounds.

“While we’re waiting for the test results, we want students to be not fully interacting and out there. In general, we want them to hunker down if you will,” Boughman said. “We’re not asking them to quarantine in their room and not come out of their rooms, but we want them to in fact be prudent in what they’re doing until we get negative tests back. Once we get the negative tests back, we remain expecting students to do their symptom monitoring on a daily basis and follow the other public health actions.”

Individual system universities will provide guidance to students and employees who have been tested for COVID-19 but are still awaiting their test results at the start of the fall semester. The schools also will share alternative testing arrangements with anyone who is unable to access a COVID-19 test before arriving.

Each campus will manage records of negative tests differently, said Boughman. Students living in on-campus residences must have this documentation when they move in, and they will be referred for testing if they do not. Universities will also use their campus health officials, registrar’s offices and general student management systems to stay organized and enforce this requirement.

All students and employees returning to a USM institution must also begin daily symptom monitoring and reporting 14 days before their arrival on campus. Individual universities will provide further evaluation and guidance to anyone reporting COVID-19-associated symptoms.

USM’s statement provided a list of five requirements that employees, students and visitors at every USM institution must adhere to:

  • use of a mask or face covering in campus buildings and on campus grounds;
  • physical distancing of at least six feet;
  • compliance with local guidance on events and gathering;
  • “vigilant” hand hygiene, including, washing, sanitizing and limited face-touching;
  • and daily symptom monitoring.

Individual universities will share with their campus communities the consequences of noncompliance with these rules. Noncompliance could lead to disciplinary measures through a university’s student conduct process, said Boughman. Still, she expects there will be flexibility for honest mistakes.

“Everybody is going to be reasonable about this. There are times when people walk out of their dorm or a day they may forget a mask or something,” Boughman said. “It is the intentional noncompliance that we are most concerned about.”

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