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UW-Eau Claire begins COVID-19 antigen testing

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Eau Claire (WQOW)- After dozens of students tested positive for COVID-19 at UW-Eau Claire during the first week of classes, the university is ramping up testing for all students who live on campus in an effort to stop the spread.

Thanks to the UW System, UW-Eau Claire has received 5,300 antigen testing kits to test asymptomatic students for COVID-19. Earlier this week, they transformed a section of the McPhee Center gymnasium into the designated testing center on campus.

Antigen testing helps determine if a student is carrying COVID-19, even if they do not have symptoms. The tests produce rapid results in roughly 30 minutes, and if a student tests positive, they are asked to complete a second test for better accuracy.

"This antigen testing allows us to flag asymptomatic students," said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director of EDI at UW-Eau Claire. "So if they test positive, then we take them to our Health Services Center, and they take the PCR test, which is much more accurate for positive tests for asymptomatic folks."

UW-Eau Claire is requiring all students living in residence halls to take an antigen test every 2-3 weeks, and students who live off campus are not eligible to receive them. The university began their soft testing launch for select students on Tuesday, and one student says his first test was a stressful but smooth process.

"It made me a little nervous because I've heard of the dreaded test that they shove way up into the nasal cavity," said Josh Frye, a UW-Eau Claire freshman. "But then coming in here and getting the process done was easier than easy."

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department says over half of September's COVID-19 cases in the county stem from UW-Eau Claire. While the tests are designed to pinpoint more cases and slow the spread, health officials say the increased monitoring of symptoms at the university, and other institutions, could cause an upcoming spike in cases.

"The fact that we're really watching symptoms at both those two institutions, both K-12 and UW-Eau Claire are actively monitoring symptoms, as is CVTC, that means we're finding people more quickly that may have symptoms and need to be tested," said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Dept. "On top of that, the antigen testing is adding again the likelihood that we will see more cases."

The UW System is distributing more than 315,000 antigen test kits to universities, and UW-Eau Claire will continue ordering more tests throughout the semester when necessary. So far, the university has administered 367 antigen tests this week, and 115 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since September 1.

Evan Hong

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