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A Vault Health COVID-19 testing sign directs its patrons to Shively Hall.

Health officials discuss importance of asymptomatic testing for vaccinated individuals amid rising cases

Clarification appended.

Ohio University is gathering data from its asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program for vaccinated students, faculty and staff in order to estimate the prevalence of breakthrough cases on campus as positive coronavirus rates continue to rise in Athens County. 

The vaccine mitigates the effects of COVID-19, showing a strong efficacy against hospitalization and death, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, said. There is also a higher risk of contracting the virus for those unvaccinated than vaccinated. However, the vaccine is not 100% effective. 

OU has many different asymptomatic programs for vaccinated students who are not required to test weekly unlike unvaccinated students. The programs include testing by choice, surveillance testing in which students are invited via random email to get tested voluntarily and wide net testing in which students get tested after a known or possible exposure. 

The university has about 10% participation in the surveillance program, and about 50% who are called for wide net testing follow through, Ice said. 

The Women's Panhellenic Association used asymptomatic testing at the university in order to mitigate a potential exposure during one of its events the week before Fall Semester began. All the women at the event had to get tested, whether they were vaccinated or not. 

“A woman who ended up testing positive was at the event, and we just wanted to be extra cautious to ensure that all of our women were safe and that there was no possibility of spread, so we did do a large net testing,” Ariel Tarosky, director of Sorority and Fraternity Life at OU, said. “(We wanted to make) sure we were super cautious to ensure the health and safety of all the women in our Panhellenic community.”

Cases have been rising in Athens County, with over 1000 reported active cases, according to a previous Post report. Jack Pepper, administrator at the Athens City-County Health Department, said the ability of asymptomatic individuals to spread COVID-19 shows the importance of identifying asymptomatic positive cases. 

“Asymptomatic people are of particular interest because if they are asymptomatic, they wouldn’t otherwise change their behavior because they don’t know that they’re sick,” Pepper said. 

At OU, breakthrough cases continue to be reported. Vaccinated people make up about half of the positive cases, Ice said, but because 70% of the population is vaccinated, the risk is much higher for the unvaccinated. 

In addition to students, OU’s COVID-19 testing programs also have an effect on the local community’s health. 

However, while there is not a shortage of Vault tests through OU, there is a concern about a shortage of tests in the Athens community as cases rise. 

“I do think that it is important that we carefully evaluate where we put priority when it comes to testing,” Pepper said. “We are seeing, with the current push or the current surge in cases, that tests are becoming scarce in the community. They're not as easy to come by as they were a month ago. So, I do think that it’s really important that we continue to prioritize how we are using tests, depending on test availability, because … it would certainly make sense if we have a shortage of tests to test those that are symptomatic before we would test those (who) are vaccinated and not showing any symptoms for COVID.”

All individuals who take a COVID-19 saliva test, whether they are vaccinated or not, get the same test, which tests for the presence of the live virus, Kate Brickman, communications director for Vault Health, said. 


Clarification: A previous version of this article could be misconstrued as OU having a shortage of COVID-19 tests, when only Athens County has a shortage. There is no current shortage of Vault tests through OU. This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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