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Cornell College launching COVID-19 saliva testing program for athletes

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (KWWL) -- To get student-athletes back to practicing and competing, Cornell College is launching a new pooled saliva COVID-19 testing initiative.

In January, campus health leaders rolled out a testing procedure that uses SalivaDirect tests created by the Yale School of Public Health.

The new program will be another layer of testing, in addition to the college's testing program that started at the beginning of the academic year.

“Pooled saliva testing isn’t being used on college campuses a lot right now because it’s pretty new,” said Cornell College Pandemic Response Coordinator and registered nurse Nancy Reasland. “It’s efficient and it’s a cost-saving measure for the college. It can run parallel to the antigen testing program we’re already doing, so we will be serving the whole campus.”

Athletic trainers will wear personal protective equipment and collect samples from the athletes in the Small Sport Center. Regular testing will continue at the Student Health Center.

Depending on the sport and competition schedule, some student-athletes may have saliva testing done as many as two or three times a week.

With the initiative, multiple samples of saliva are tested together in a single sample. If the pool is negative, the samples are cleared. If the pool is positive, then the student-athletes will be tested again to determine which person or people are COVID-19 positive.

The samples will be analyzed at Health Research Institute Laboratories in Fairfield, Iowa. Results take 24 hours.

“We have a new mindset in our department. We are going to train, practice, and compete until we can’t instead of not train, practice, or compete until we can. For example, we will pause activities if we reach a certain threshold of positive tests within a team,” said Cornell College Director of Athletics Seth Wing. “All of Cornell’s sports teams are planning on having some sort of training, practicing, and competition schedule this spring.” 

Wing said winter and spring sports have already started to practice. Winter sports will begin competing by the end of the month, while fall sports will start on Feb. 15.

“The athletic experience is so important for our student-athletes that we are excited to provide that for our deserving students,” Wing said. “That said, we will not put our students’ health and safety in jeopardy to have a competition.”

The college used antigen tests on all student-athletes who returned early for the spring semester.

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Olivia Schmitt

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