University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in Asymptomatic Faculty and Staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Maureen D. Goss, MPH; Mary M. Checovich, MS; Cristalyne Bell, BS; Shari Barlow, BA; Jonathan L. Temte, MD, PhD

WMJ. 2022;121(2):121-126

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Introduction: Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 among university employees is an important part of mitigation strategies to prevent asymptomatic transmission and ensure a safe learning and work environment. Here, we assess the feasibility and performance of a program that relies on monitored self-collected nasal swabs to detect SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic faculty and staff.

Methods: We recruited 1,030 faculty and staff via rolling enrollment who completed the required University of Wisconsin-Madison employee COVID-19 training and reported working on campus. Asymptomatic participants visited a designated location during a specified timeframe each week where they self-collected nasal swabs supervised by study staff. Specimens were stored in a cooler between 2 °C and 8 °C, then transported to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for polymerase chain reaction testing. Symptomatic participants or participants with a known exposure were advised to test elsewhere and follow quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Results: Over the course of 31 weeks, 1,030 participants self-collected 17,323 monitored nasal swabs resulting in high participation (90%). SARS-CoV-2 was detected in 16 specimens. Eight specimens were inconclusive but were treated as positive results because of the implied detection of 1 or more SARS-CoV-2 genes. There were no invalid tests. Weekly SARS-CoV-2 incidence among participants ranged from 0 to 1.54% (x̄ = 0.20%). The SARS-CoV-2 incidence among participants was similar to estimated incidence in the greater university employee population.

Conclusion: Weekly SARS-CoV-2 surveillance of asymptomatic faculty and staff on campus allowed for estimation of weekly SARS-CoV-2 incidence among on-campus employees. This surveillance protocol presents a low-cost, effective, and scalable option to identify asymptomatic cases of SARS-CoV-2 among university employees.

Author Affiliations: Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin (Goss, Checovich, Bell, Barlow, Temte).
Corresponding Author: Maureen Goss, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, 1100 Delaplaine Court, Madison, WI 53715; phone 608.301.7730; email; ORCID ID 0000-0002-7062-1916.
Acknowledgements: The work presented here was successfully accomplished by the UW–Madison SARS-CoV-2 Incidence Surveillance Program Team, which included Emily Temte, Cecilia He, Carly Hamer, Katie Bieser, Lily Vesel, Katie Reisdorf, Gabrielle Henshue, and Jake Barlow. We are grateful to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, PhD, for her gracious support of this project; to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for their tireless support; to the UW-Madison faculty and staff, who conscientiously participated in the weekly collection of nasal swabs; and Allison LaTarte, who provided University drop-in testing data for comparison.
Funding/Support: Funding for this project was provided by the University of Wisconsin Chancellor’s Office.
Financial Disclosures: None declared.
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