About 1,500 students staying in dorms and another 500 employees and other students are expected to be tested next week for the virus that causes COVID-19 during move-in week at Fort Lewis College.
Students staying in FLC dormitories or at the Durango Downtown Inn will be required to get a COVID-19 test. Other students and employees are strongly recommended to get tested.
FLC is working with COVIDCheck Colorado to provide free nasal swab tests that can determine if someone has the virus but not the antibodies that form about three to four weeks after someone has been infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Results from tests are expected to be back in two to three days.
“We’re using CARES Act money the college was given to deal with COVID-19 expenses. So there will be no cost to our (FLC) community members. It’s basically free to the student or the employee,” said Jeff Dupont, FLC vice president for student affairs.
Tests are expected to continue until the college has expended the $150,000 budgeted for the tests, which cost $10 each, not including staffing costs, Dupont said.
For students staying in the dorms and Durango Downtown Inn, a drive-thru testing station will be set up in the parking lot for Roy Dennison Memorial Field, the football stadium, during move-in week. The drive-thru station will be opened to test other FLC students and employees after move-in week.
Another testing facility for those not required to be tested – students living in town and employees – will be set up at the FLC Student Health Center.
“We’re testing anyone in our (FLC) community who wants to take a test,” Dupont said. “We’re recommending everyone come in and get tested before school starts and then any time they feel like they’ve been exposed. We’re just trying to get a handle on the situation to establish a baseline.”
Gary Community Investments, a foundation that provides grants and investments to nonprofit agencies and for-profit businesses working with schools, educational entities and low-income communities, built COVIDCheck Colorado to meet the needs of colleges, schools and other groups that would be reassembling after the initial wave of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Mike Johnston, the CEO of Gary Community Investments, said COVIDCheck Colorado was built by the foundation to provide regular access to testing for colleges and school districts that are on tight budgets.
“We knew there would be schools and colleges and workers who were expected to return to work, and they we’re not going to feel comfortable doing it without some regular access to testing,” he said.
The foundation created COVIDCheck Colorado so institutions like FLC would have an affordable, efficient and available resource to continuously monitor for outbreaks.
“In a market where it’s $100 or $150 for a test retail, we’re able to offer to places like Fort Lewis a test at $10. So we think it’s both the most affordable, most accessible and most efficient testing platform out there. We’re trying to use it to help communities reopen and in safe and thoughtful ways.”
Adams State University, Colorado Mesa University and the University of Colorado Denver are also testing students and employees with COVIDCheck Colorado nasal swabs.
As the semester progresses, Dupont said FLC will conduct surveillance testing, which will involve randomly selecting people who live on and off campus for testing to get an idea of how many people are being affected and how many people are infected and asymptomatic.
Data from testing will be shared with San Juan Basin Public Health.
“We are anticipating having positive cases to start the school year, so we don’t want that to be alarming to people when they see certain number of FLC students test positive,” he said.
Dupont said that whenever testing increases, more cases that previously would have gone undetected among people who are asymptomatic will be discovered.
“The more you test, the more you find out. We feel like it’s a better plan to test ahead of time,” he said.
FLC has identified spaces both on campus and off campus to self-isolate any student who tests positive, Dupont said.
“The whole idea is we’re hoping to really get a baseline of our community from the beginning. So we can isolate those who are asymptomatic carriers and really try to reduce the risk to our community and the Durango community,” he said.