COVID-19 Task Force Issues Updates on Testing and Masking

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A new category of “inconclusive” added to PCR test results, requiring retesting ASAP.

Photo by Keoni Ocalvey ’20, Thayer ’21

In a community message today, the COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs announced updates on COVID-19 testing procedures and reiterated the importance of the proper use of face coverings.

In the email, Lisa Adams, a physician and a professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine, and Josh Keniston, vice president of campus services and institutional projects, announced the addition of a third testing result category: “inconclusive.”

The Massachusetts-based Broad Institute, one of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 testing partners, has adjusted the testing protocol in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health “to optimally balance the sensitivity and specificity of their PCR test,” wrote Adams and Keniston.

Going forward, the Broad Institute will report a positive result only when both probes used in the test indicate a positive detection of COVID-19. When only one probe signals a positive result, the test will be deemed inconclusive and the person tested will be asked to retest as soon as possible.

“Both students and employees will be asked to isolate until the results of any repeat tests are received,” Adams and Keniston wrote. “Dartmouth College Health Service or Axiom (one of Dartmouth’s testing partners, Axiom Medical) will provide instructions for getting retested, as no one with an inconclusive or positive result should enter either of our testing sites.”

Dartmouth has also updated information for employees whose COVID-19 tests cannot be processed. For various reasons, such as not enough cells collected during swabbing, lab error, or other causes, about 4% of all testing samples cannot be analyzed, Adams and Keniston wrote. “When that happens, results will be returned to Axiom, which will contact the employee to arrange for retesting.”

Employees can find more details about these circumstances and other information at the Employee COVID-19 Resources website.

The co-chairs also re-emphasized the importance of Dartmouth’s face-covering policy, stressing that the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to show the importance of masking and of using a well-fitted face covering. They shared a video link on how to make a surgical mask fit more tightly.

In closing, Adams and Keniston wrote, “we hope that you are feeling well and taking good care of yourself. Remember, spring is less than five weeks away!”

For the latest information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.

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