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University Provides COVID Testing Support to Syracuse Community
In late November, New York state designated many parts of Onondaga County as COVID-19 “orange zones,” geographic areas experiencing a growing COVID-19 positivity rate.
The designation forced the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) to suspend in-person instruction, creating significant challenges for the district’s students and families. To reopen schools at that time, the district was required to test 100 percent of students and staff (and 25 percent tested weekly thereafter).
Faced with this monumental task, the SCSD and Onondaga County turned to its neighbor that had built a deep well of experience in COVID-19 testing—Syracuse University.
The University had just completed residential learning for the Fall 2020 semester, in which more than 100,000 saliva-based surveillance COVID-19 tests were administered to students, faculty and staff. Additional diagnostic tests were performed by the health team at the Barnes Center.
“Given that Syracuse University has developed both an infrastructure and competency related to COVID testing, the University’s public health team—in partnership with the Office of Community Engagement—was glad to offer our support in whatever way would be most helpful to accomplish the school district’s goal of 100 percent testing,” says J. Michael Haynie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, who has led the University’s COVID-19 response.
SU volunteers worked in city schools during the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4, teaming with members of the Syracuse City Fire Department to administer a nasal swab that provided rapid results. A number of University volunteers were deployed at schools around the city during the week and supported the administration of tests to 10,284 SCSD students and staff at more than 20 sites, says Joe Hernon, the University’s director of emergency management who led the volunteer effort.
“The science and data have proven that schools are safe which is why County Executive McMahon has made it a top priority to do everything we can to keep them open,” says Daniel Wears, Onondaga County’s commissioner of emergency management. “A critical piece of that effort is to provide onsite testing at the schools. When cluster zones were first identified, we immediately knew staffing would be our most significant need to complete testing in each facility. Our existing relationships with the University allowed us to quickly mobilize teams and keep kids in school. It is a benefit to the children to continue their education and a benefit to the families to limit any further disruptions.”
Hernon says that the volunteers came from all corners of the University—from the Barnes Center to the schools and colleges, Food Services to Athletics. The cross-section of volunteers “speaks to the character of Syracuse University,” Hernon says. “The portfolio of personnel that we provided was amazing.”
The University remains committed to being a resource for the community as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. “We are able to mobilize and get up and running very quickly, and we have experience and know-how in how to do it,” Hernon says.