PCR saliva testing now available

by Annika Bjornson | Staff Writer

Among the expected back to school guidelines for 2021, there will also be a required entry testing program for on-campus students and an option for off-campus students. As the holidays approach, students are encouraged to read the plans. Photo courtesy of Rtmagazine.com.

Whitworth has officially released its back-to-school guide for the 2021 January and Spring terms, which lays out important information for students regarding COVID-19 guidelines and procedures. The most notable change will be the availability of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) saliva-based testing, which will be mandatory for on-campus students. 

This saliva test is easier to perform and more comfortable than a nasal swab. Since it is independently performed, this test does not require the assistance of a healthcare worker.  

Whitworth will continue to work with the same local lab, InCyte Diagnostics, for the nasal swab testing, but the university is working with a new company, Meenta, for the saliva-based testing. This choice will allow for wider, more economical testing. 

Randy Michaelis, dean of continuing studies and graduate admissions, serves as the head of the COVID Response Team.  

“I am very proud of my team and the work we’ve done…. It’s not perfect, but we’re open, our students are still here, [and] we’re doing the best we can,” Michaelis said. “Because all of us care passionately about this mission [and] about our students, and here we are. We hope that we can make it through the holidays without too terrible a surge afterwards and continue to get through the spring and get vaccinations out and go from there.” 

Before moving back into the residence halls, students will be asked to quarantine and use the daily health app LiveSafe for seven days prior to their arrival, beginning on Dec. 28. All students will also participate in the required entry testing program upon arrival and then continue to abide by the guidelines around “family units” and “crews.” 

When students arrive on campus on Jan. 3, they will provide a sample of their saliva and drop it off in a residence hall lounge for testing. Also, 600 tests will be available on a first-come-first-served basis for off-campus students on Jan. 4 and 5 in Graves Gym. Students should receive their results within 24-48 hours. For more details, see campus announcements

As students prepare to go home for the holidays, Michaelis advises that people limit their exposure to others. 

“The most common comment I hear is, ‘I knew all these people. They weren’t strangers. I knew them. I just didn’t think it would be a risk.’ You know they’re good people and you think they’re being safe, but you don’t know what they’ve been exposed to…So if we all limit our exposure, then that will help us get through this rough patch,” Michaelis said. 

With the recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the university faces upcoming decisions on whether to mandate vaccinations once they are available. They will work closely with the Spokane Regional Health District and other local experts for guidance. 

To learn more about the January and Spring term plans, see the back to school guide