Update on COVID-19 testing at Iowa State

COVID-19 Test results

AMES, Iowa – From Aug. 7-13, 3,472 Iowa State University students moving into the residence halls and campus apartments completed COVID-19 testing at Lied Recreation Center. Of that number 75 students, or 2.2%, tested positive, and 3,397 students, or 97.8%, tested negative.

Move-in testing started on July 31 and will continue through Sunday, Aug. 16. Of the total 6,509 tested from July 31-Aug. 13, 141 were positive and 6,368 negative. The overall positivity rate is 2.2%.

Iowa State’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is conducting the COVID-19 testing. Director Rodger Main says the PCR test used is a very sensitive and accurate methodology to detect the virus. The lab is certified for human clinical work and follows guidance provided by the CDC.

“Students and their families can be confident in the accuracy of the test results,” Main says. “The test is extremely sensitive and can detect minute levels of the virus.”

Erin Baldwin, interim senior vice president of student affairs and director of Thielen Student Health Center, says all positive cases are reviewed to confirm the results. Because the COVID-19 PCR test being used by the university is extremely sensitive, in some rare cases, the test will indicate a positive result where another less sensitive testing methodology will not. 

Baldwin says these results are not false positives but attributable to the differences in the sensitivity of the tests being used and a relatively low level of virus present. The percentage of positive tests of 2.2% is well within the expected range of infection given the current infection rates in the counties, states, and countries where university students are arriving from. Using the most sensitive COVID-19 testing protocol aligns with the university’s goal of reducing the risk of exposure to students, faculty, staff, and the community.

The goal of ISU’s testing program is to identify positive cases and potential exposures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus. The VDL provides test results to students within 24 hours. However, due to power outages on Monday and Tuesday, results were delayed until Thursday. All positive cases are reported to the Iowa Department of Public Health, but there may be a delay before the results are reflected in IDPH’s daily tracking.

“We understand that receiving news that you need to isolate or quarantine is stressful for our students and families, especially when this impacts participation in campus events and classes. We have built systems to support our students during this time period and will provide flexibility while they navigate coursework virtually,” Baldwin said.