Thousands of students living on and near college campuses in Oregon opted to get tested for coronavirus before traveling home to spend Thanksgiving with family. Institutions are handling increased demand for testing ahead of the holiday, but Oregon health officials are still advising against nonessential travel as high coronavirus case counts continue.
Oregon State University typically tests its campus communities through its TRACE-COVID-19 project. The project does “prevalence testing” — randomly choosing about 1,000 students, staff and faculty per week across OSU’s various campuses, to be tested on a voluntary basis.
OSU last week increased that capacity, inviting about 10,000 students across its campuses to take voluntary coronavirus tests ahead of holiday travel through that program.
The university said 5,607 students studying at its Corvallis, Bend and Newport locations took up the offer. Of those students, 38 tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials did not specify which campuses those students attended, but previous testing has shown the vast majority of positive coronavirus cases have been at OSU’s main campus in Corvallis.
OSU’s coronavirus data dashboard has not yet been updated with new test results from last week, but according to its most recent data from the week prior OSU’s Corvallis campus has seen 230 cumulative coronavirus cases in students, staff and faculty members.
That’s compared to 11 cumulative positive cases at its Bend campus and no cases associated with the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
The University of Oregon also invited students to participate in voluntary testing ahead of Thanksgiving, in addition to its mandatory testing it does for its about 3,000 students living in on-campus housing.
UO said at least 1,200 students living off-campus signed up to get a coronavirus test at clinics held on Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
The university does not have the total number of students who actually showed up for their testing slots, nor the results from those most recent tests.
Since June 1, according to the most recently available data from UO, 548 off-campus students have tested positive for COVID-19 versus 71 students living on-campus and 13 employees.
The other of Oregon’s largest public universities, Portland State, did not hold any additional testing clinics in advance of the holiday break. Instead, the university has been offering testing at its student health center on an ongoing basis.
Last week, PSU’s student health center reported more than 100 new test samples — including staff, faculty and students who physically come to campus in some capacity. Of those samples, PSU reported seven new coronavirus cases.
Getting a coronavirus test before traveling may seem like the responsible move, but some health practitioners in the state are urging against the idea of testing as a “free pass’' due to tests potentially not picking up on asymptomatic cases, among other concerns.
The Oregon Health Authority is continuing to advise that people limit any nonessential travel, including traveling to family for the holidays.
OHA has reported 68,503 cumulative coronavirus cases in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. Oregon has seen more than 1,000 daily cases every day since last Wednesday.
On Tuesday, OHA reported 21 new coronavirus-related deaths — a one-day record death toll for the state. OHA reported an additional 20 deaths Wednesday. The state has reported 867 total deaths.
“... [E]ach death we record is a reminder that COVID-19 is a life-threatening virus that’s easy to catch, a warning that more Oregonians will die if we don’t contain it and a call to action to stop its spread,” OHA director Patrick Allen said in a statement.
“This Thanksgiving, cancel any plans you have to celebrate indoors with large groups of family and friends,” Allen said in another statement earlier this week. “The safest, wisest and most caring way to protect the people you love is to keep your Thanksgiving dinner small and limited to no more than one other household beside your own. Keep the holidays a time to remember, not a time to regret.”
OHA is reminding Oregonians that all counties are currently subject to a “freeze” in which it’s recommended to limit social gatherings to six or fewer people, and to gather with no more than one other household at a time.