Historically Black colleges, universities launch COVID-19 testing program

Students talk on the campus of Delaware State University (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

Delaware State University is one of the first historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to roll out a new mass COVID-19 testing program.

The university has partnered with Testing for America, a nonprofit aiding schools and businesses in reopening through access to frequent testing.

“We knew that if we had a robust testing protocol it would give the university community more comfort in coming back and it would enable us to have a more comprehensive approach to reopening the university,” said Delaware State University President Tony Allen.

At Delaware State, about 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. The university’s residence halls will operate at 75% capacity, with dormitory rooms being set aside for quarantining.

“We want to make sure we create the kind of safe space that many of our students call home so that they can continue their education and do that without pause,” Allen said.

“Testing for America has really allowed us to really build out what I think is a really comprehensive plan and enable us to do all those things to help us do our job more effectively.”

The university’s reopening plan was primarily designed by Blythe Adamson, an epidemiologist and COVID-19 expert at TFA.

The testing program is also being offered at other historically Black institutions, including Albany State University, Fort Valley State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Lincoln University, Savannah State University, Southern University and Wesley College.

The focus on offering testing at HBCUs comes as Black communities around the nation are disproportionately impacted by COVID.

Adamson said some students returning to campus from these communities might not be aware that they are infected because they don’t feel any symptoms.

“We know that the likelihood of someone showing symptoms is related to age, so these college-aged students are really likely to be infected and have no idea because they don’t feel any symptoms, but they can still be infectious,” she said.

“So testing is the opportunity that we have to identify those invisible infections to allow for a safety plan to be put in place.”

Adamson said TFA is using its network to connect HBCUs with millions in philanthropic support to pay for the cost of testing.

The testing program is part of a TFA collaboration with Thurgood Marshall College Fund and The United Negro College Fund to safely open HBCUs.

“All institutions must be able to test when they reopen for in-person instruction — whether this fall or 2021,” UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax said in a news release.

“TFA’s ability to link us to high-quality providers, coupled with other safety guidance and financial support, will help bring necessary, continuous and reliable testing to entire campus communities. We are happy to partner with TFA on this critical work to help our campuses and students successfully navigate this pandemic.”

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.