Bishop's University hopes to limit outbreaks with COVID-19 tests for students living on campus

Bishop's University has hired a private U.S. firm to perform voluntary COVID-19 tests for students living in residence. If all goes well, the voluntary tests could be offered to the school's sports teams as well.

University dealt with COVID-19 outbreak last fall

The pool testing at COVID-19 for students living on Bishop's University campus is voluntary. (Radio-Canada)

In an effort to limit outbreaks on campus, Bishop's University has hired a private firm to perform COVID-19 tests for students living in residence.

The tests are voluntary. Students provide saliva samples, which are pooled and sent to a laboratory in the United States.

If the coronavirus is detected in one of the pool samples, the test results won't identify the student who tested positive. Instead, everyone in that group will be encouraged to get a nasal swab test.

Last fall, Bishop's University had to suspend the majority of on-campus activities after at least 15 people tested positive for COVID-19 on campus. 

"So far, the students are very willing to do it. It's not a painful test or anything, and it's quite easily done," said Stine Linden-Andersen, who is the dean of student affairs at Bishop's, and the chair of the university's COVID-19 taskforce. 

"I think some of the strategies we've taken, including this pool saliva testing, is going to help everyone more comfortable getting back."

Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Que., decided to suspend the majority of on-campus activities last fall due to a COVID-19 outbreak. (Bertrand Galipeau/Radio-Canada)

For most students, the winter semester began Monday, with the school offering online classes, except for some classes which offer a mix of virtual and in-person learning.

Students who want to be tested are encouraged to stop by the campus dining hall, part of which has been turned into a temporary testing clinic.

"We asked them to take a sip of water. They'll gargle for a minute, then they swallow the water," said Kendra Brock, the university's manager of health services. 

"They have to wait five minutes at least, and then they have to put at least five millilitres of saliva [in the container]."

The university is hoping to expand the voluntary testing throughout the campus, including sports teams. Starting with students in residence was the right call, according to the university's communications director. 

"It's a strategic clientele," said Olivier Bouffard. "They live here, they eat here."

With files from Spencer Van Dyk and Radio-Canada's Brigitte Marcoux