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USF begins random COVID-19 testing, environmental sampling with students back on campus

TAMPA, Fla. — COVID-19 testing is underway at the University of South Florida for both students and staff, as well as on surfaces across campus. The testing is part of the university’s surveillance strategy during the global health crisis.

“At the beginning of quarantine, I was like, ‘oh, it’ll probably be over by the time school starts in August,’ but not quite,” said USF freshman Rebekah Bustamante.

This week, USF started random COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff. Anyone who returns to campus is put in a pool for random testing. If they test positive, they’ll be notified and told to self-isolate until cleared. Students can refuse random testing, but they may be asked to quarantine and stay off campus for two weeks, as well as possibly face disciplinary action.

Environmental sampling is also part of the university’s surveillance strategy.

“Several of the studies [that] had been done early on in like March and April in China had shown that this virus could persist on surfaces for a couple of days, two, three days depending on what the type of surface is,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished professor at USF Health.

Tests on environmental samples are run in Dr. Unnasch’s lab. Samples come from high-touch surfaces like door handles, faucets, vending machines, and elevator buttons. Unnasch says residence hall staff and volunteers from the public health program swab areas once a week, with results coming back in 24 hours.

“It’s an environment that could be really conducive to a rapid spread of the virus,” said Unnasch. “If we actually are monitoring these things, we can really get ahead of this and attack any epidemics and outbreaks before they really get out of hand and control this and keep our students and our faculty and our staff safe.”

USF students who spoke with ABC Action News told us they support the COVID-19 testing protocols, in hopes that they’ll help get things back to normal soon.

“Those are like high-contact places, a lot of people are touching those,” said freshman Mekaela Barlaug. “It’s really good to test and see what are the most high-contact areas and where they need to be cleaning and everything. I think it’s really just helpful for the maintenance of places.”

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