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DSU to partner with nonprofit on student virus testing

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Delaware State University President Tony Allen announced his institution’s partnership with Testing for America on Tuesday, July 17, during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NBC UNIVERSAL

DOVER – Delaware State University will be the first historically Black college and university (HBCU) to comprehensively test returning students for the COVID-19 virus under a new partnership with Testing for America (TFA).

The nonprofit established by leading academics, engineers and entrepreneurs aims to make low-cost, highly reliable testing abundant in order to begin safely reopening U.S. schools, businesses and more. It is rolling out an ambitious testing plan for HBCUs with funding from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

At DSU, up to 3,000 students, staff and faculty will be tested frequently in combination with other safety protocols such as social distancing, a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes, mandatory masks and contact tracing. While DSU was the first school to begin the testing, another six HBCUs have since become partners, and more are in the process of joining, according to officials.

DSU President Tony Allen announced his university’s affiliation Tuesday in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show along with Wilmington otolaryngologist Dr. Joan Coker, who serves as an adviser to TFA.

“Health disparities in particular affect people of color throughout this country, and COVID is also affecting communities of color and our students,” Allen said. “We think it’s very important to protect their safety, and also make sure that we can continue their continuity of education so they can get to the finish line.”

Allen explained that students returning to Dover for the fall semester will be required to be tested before and after they arrive on campus. Faculty, staff and students will also be regularly tested throughout the semester to ensure the virus is not spreading on campus, he added. Should a student test positive, Allen said that DSU has set aside a dormitory to act as a quarantine station while he or she recovers.

Coker explained that through partnerships with Cerner, a global health care technology company, and Illumina, the world leader in genomic sequencing, TFA is able to test widely at HBCUs with the philanthropic support. She said that tens of thousands of tests that look for the virus’s genetic presence could be completed in a day, and they have hope of doing as many as 100,000 a day. The results are expected to be returned in 24 to 34 hours – considerably faster than many other commercially available tests that can take up to a few days for results.

“It’s not new technology, it’s just an upgrade to the technology. We don’t have anything that no one else has,” Coker said. “The vendors are ready to go, and we’re ready to roll with them.”

While the funding from The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and The United Negro College Fund will support testing at campuses of some of the nation’s 107 HBCUs, TFA said that it is currently in active discussions with K-12 schools, other higher education institutions and businesses across the country, as well as seeking additional philanthropic supporters and major donors to sponsor testing initiatives.

“This will be the model,” Coker said of how all universities should reopen campuses. “So not only do we have a seat at the table as HBCUs, we may be able to set the table under these circumstances.”

By Jacob Owens


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