As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Lane County, University of Oregon students are among the many residents seeking tests in Eugene and surrounding areas. COVID-19 testing is offered at community testing events, nearby clinics and through UO’s University Health Services.
Between Friday, Oct. 2, and Monday, Oct. 5, Lane County Public Health reported 1,432 COVID-19 tests throughout the county. LCPH reported over 400 tests each day the following two days.
University Health Services, or UHS, provides testing for UO students. To test students for active infections, UHS uses the RNA Quantitative Real-Time RT polymerase chain reaction test, or simply, the qPCR test, according to the UHS website. The test is conducted using a nylon nasopharyngeal swab that is inserted until about half way between the nostril and the ear and rotated several times, according to a video of the procedure from COPAN Diagnostics.
UHS also offers the blood antibody test to test for past infection, especially if travel, employment or visitation requires it, according to the site. However, “[UHS] clinicians order the nasopharyngeal swab much more regularly,” UHS Director Debra Beck said in an email.
Asymptomatic students in congregate living and those who have had contact with a known case are eligible for testing as long as testing supplies are available, Beck said, and students with symptoms can see a clinician at UHS.
UHS is collaborating with the UO Monitoring and Assessment Program to test students living in the residence halls, she said. MAP administers the tests and runs the lab, she said, while UHS communicates results to students and supports those who test positive.
The surveillance testing for students living in residence halls occurs in Matthew Knight Arena and UO does not publish the location of MAP’s testing laboratory for security reasons, UO spokesperson Saul Hubbard said.
Jose Paniagua is a UO freshman living in Justice Bean Hall. Paniagua said he and other first-years were nervous about getting tested because a positive result meant quarantining before moving into the residence halls.
The overall testing process at Matthew Knight Arena was pretty straightforward and organized, Paniagua said — he got his negative diagnosis a little less than 24 hours after the test.
Volunteers outside the arena wore masks, he said, and those performing the tests wore full-body white suits. The suited testers handed students q-tip-like tools to put up both nostrils, Paniagua said.
It wasn’t painful, he said, and “it wasn’t as far as I imagined.”
Several other UO students had different testing experiences.
Annika Mayne is a sophomore studying art and Native American studies. Mayne went to Nova Urgent Care on Patterson St. and E 13th Ave.
Mayne said she visited the university’s testing webpage, but preferred Nova’s online check-in options and same-day rapid antigen testing. Mayne said Nova was “cheap” and “convenient.”
Antigen testing, a test for current infection, according to the CDC definition, can use a nasal swab to collect samples in the nostrils. A nasal swab does not push into the sinuses like the nasopharyngeal swab for the qPCR test, according to a graphic from the Louisiana Department of Health. However, antigen tests — often referred to as “rapid tests” — are “generally less sensitive” than PCR tests.
UO tests students moving into residence halls with the qPCR test and a nasal swab, according to Katy George with UO’s Strategic Communications and Marketing.
Mayne said she got her results from Nova exactly 20 minutes after getting a q-tip “aggressively” shoved up both nostrils.
“Kind of a weird feeling, but you should get tested for COVID, so it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s like 15 seconds of annoyance.
Francesca Muchow, a senior studying political science and legal studies, said she was very impressed with her testing experience at UHS in July.
Muchow was not symptomatic, but she had been traveling over the summer and wanted to be certain she didn’t have the virus.
Muchow got a “slightly uncomfortable” qPCR test the same day she called UHS and remembers getting the results within 48 hours. She was surprised that the process was so quick given anecdotes she’d heard about long wait times for testing.
Alexey Didenko, a senior in UO’s business school, also got tested at UHS. Didenko said in an email the nasal swab “burned like when chlorinated pool water gets up your nose,” and he got his results three days later.
With his insurance, the cost of the exam and test at UHS cost Didenko less than $60.
Beck said individual situations vary with insurance coverage and cost, but “most students will not have out-of-pocket expenses for these tests.” Students that need assistance with payment can apply for funds from UO, she said.
Didenko said he was impressed with UHS’s cleaning and personal protective equipment standards. Everyone wore full-body suits, visors “and, like, three masks,” he said, and what looked like individual mechanical air systems.
“Made me happy to see them taking this seriously,” he said.
Updated on Oct. 12 at 12:37 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect that UHS does not administer the tests, but that MAP administers COVID-19 tests.