Joining other teaching institutions, the University of Texas Medical Branch will begin randomly testing most students this week in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The move comes as universities across the nation have shifted to online classes after outbreaks that followed the start of the school year.
The university will randomly select 100 students each week to be given a coronavirus test, said Scott Boeh, assistant vice president for university student services and registrar.
Of the 3,400 students, only about 2,500 will be subject to the random testing, Boeh said.
Students who don’t attend classes on campus won’t need to participate, he said.
“We wanted to look at prevalence on campus,” Boeh said. “We have not had a lot of cases in our students.”
Since February, only about 50 cases have been confirmed among students, Boeh said.
The program is meant to prevent outbreaks by monitoring cases, he said.
But the university generally trusts that students are taking the pandemic seriously, he said.
“Our students have been really good about telling us if they in fact have it or if they’ve been exposed to it,” Boeh said.
The random testing is a technique already in use by Texas A&M University at Galveston, spokeswoman Rebecca Watts said.
The school started testing students when they returned to campus to keep an eye out for possible spread, Watts said.
“It’s very much looking for any community spread that may not be picked up through our normal reporting process,” Watts said.
About 2,400 students attend Texas A&M University at Galveston.
The testing program is focused on students who are in student organizations, research groups or similar clusters that have regular in-person meetings, she said.
The university tests 10 percent of each group at a time, and the frequency of tests varies for each group, Watts said.
Faculty members who are in regular close contact with groups of students also are tested, she said.
Colleges across the country have been struggling with managing rising case levels as campuses reopened for the fall semester.
Colleges such as the University of Notre Dame have suspended classes after rising cases or suspended students for hosting parties, as Purdue University has done. Many other college administrators have sent letters to their students pleading for them to follow guidelines to socially distance and wear masks.
It’s a problem local colleges are very aware of, Watts said.
“I think every college in the country is concerned about the impact of COVID and maintaining and protecting the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” Watts said.
The university would have to scale back significantly if it found evidence of coronavirus spreading among students on campus. But because of the campus’ small size, it would be easier to manage it than at large universities, Watts said.
The medical branch testing program doesn’t have a specific end date, but the administration wants to make sure each student gets tested at least once, Boeh said.
Students won’t be penalized if they opt out of a test, he said.