UofSC halts COVID-19 saliva testing citing staffing shortages

UofSC hosts virtual Town Hall to discuss COVID-19

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One day after University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen said the school would continue to test as many students as possible for COVID-19, saliva testing on campus has stopped.

To be clear, nasal swab tests are still available for faculty and staff Thursday, and students with symptoms can make an appointment to be tested at the Student Health Center, a spokesman for the school said.

However, UofSC officials said there are staffing shortages preventing them from having saliva testing sites open Thursday.

Several hours after the news broke that testing was halted, Caslen released a letter to the UofSC community further explaining what happened.

He said a “key lab staffer” is sick, and saliva testing cannot be done without that person.

The school does not know when saliva testing might resume, but Caslen said he was certain it would be back up and running after the Labor Day weekend.

In a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday, Caslen said the school has the capacity to test a thousand or more students a day -- when saliva testing is happening.

Caslen did say a couple hundred people in the campus community were tested Thursday via nasal swab.

Here’s his full letter (story continues below):

The president said Wednesday that testing at a high level is important to identify cases among students and isolate them to help slow the spread of the virus.

Without testing, asymptomatic carriers of the virus could spread it to many other people without ever knowing they had it. Caslen does not want that to happen.

“We want to find each and every one of them -- pull them out from spreading the virus to others, get them healthy and then get them back into the classroom,” he said.

While most all of the COVID-19 cases on UofSC’s campus involve students who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms, those students still have to quarantine.

UofSC’s isolation and quarantine areas are filling up quickly, with 72% of them already in use, Caslen said Wednesday.

“We want to be sure that we have the capability of controlling the spread and keeping it from vulnerable groups, to include our faculty and our staff, and then to keep it from vulnerable groups within the community,” Caslen said.

School officials will be sharing an update with the public on the university’s quarantine capacity on Friday morning.

Each positive case on campus also requires a contact tracer to make about eight phone calls. That’s another factor that plays into whether the school has capacity to deal with the virus.

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Caslen said UofSC is getting media attention for having a high number of cases, but he says that’s because they are doing more testing than other universities.

“There’s a great story that’s going on here because we want to find the positives,” Caslen said. “We want to find each and every one of them. We know that even though there’s no tests and you find no positives (at other schools) -- there still are positives going around and infecting other people and that it still needs some medical care.”

Only one faculty member currently has COVID-19 at UofSC. The president said that shows classrooms are safe.

The college will update its COVID-19 dashboard with new case numbers on Friday afternoon.

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