ONU's on-site testing

On June 24, 2020, the ONU Board of Trustees endorsed the University’s COVID-19 safety plan for resuming in-person education for fall semester 2020. The plan was developed by incorporating the informed efforts of several work groups and special teams, leadership reviews undertaken over several weeks, and helpful suggestions during a campus comment period. The plan was reviewed and fine-tuned throughout the summer to ensure continued compliance with guidance from federal and state governments and the local health department. This fall, ONU executed its implementation plan derived from the work done over the summer. Students, faculty and staff have worked tirelessly over the past seven months to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of every member of the ONU community remains our top priority. These are their stories.

As the director of the Raabe College of Pharmacy’s residency programs, Dr. Michael Rush, PharmD ’05, is instrumental in helping Ohio Northern University pharmacy students gain the practical experience they need to graduate as doctors of pharmacy. This year, Rush, who also serves as director of ONU HealthWise, has overseen ONU’s on-site COVID-19 testing program and incorporated students into the process, providing them with what he calls a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

Mike RushONU administered approximately 3,000 COVID-19 tests to students, faculty and staff during the fall 2020 semester. This spring, due in part to NCAA guidelines for student-athletes, the University is preparing to administer as many as 18,000 tests. A testing program that robust requires significant human capital, and the demand it has generated on campus for trained technicians is being met by fourth-year pharmacy students in the college’s Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE) and the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) programs.

“We actually implemented our COVID-19 testing program into a curricular requirement,” says Rush. “Our fourth-year students are required to complete 40 hours of IPPE at a site of their choosing, and this fall we had 10 IPPE and 20 APPE students select ONU HealthWise as that site so they could help with testing. I thought that was a really powerful way to involve students in hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work within a pandemic. It’s something these young professionals will be able to talk about to potential employers down the road. So, maybe that’s a silver lining amid a terrible situation, that our students got a great learning opportunity here.

The ONU testing program used nasal swab rapid antigen tests that ONU HealthWise was able to process onsite using equipment in the ONU Mobile Clinic. The antigen test was chosen because the 15-minute turnaround time for results allowed Rush’s team to quickly identify individuals who needed to be isolated to prevent any potential outbreaks on campus. Tests were administered to ONU community members who presented symptoms of COVID-19 and also to otherwise healthy students, faculty and staff as part of a surveillance program designed to identify asymptomatic cases.

“In the beginning, the testing working group of the ONU COVID-19 Task Force looked at all options that were on the table. Options ranged from becoming a full commercial lab, to hiring an outside lab to come in and do those services for us, to developing an in-house program. We ended up going with the in-house program and developed all the policies and procedures needed to implement it on campus,” says Rush.

In retrospect, the decision to create a testing program on campus not only proved successful in helping ONU complete the fall semester in person, but it also allowed the University’s response to improve over time. Since essentially everything associated with COVID-19 at the diagnostic level (testing methods, testing medium, equipment, even the vaccines) are authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization Order from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, new data is becoming available all the time. Rush has made sure that ONU is aware of all the new information and any new recommendations or guidance that may improve the University’s program. For instance, in December, Rush learned that the analyzer ONU uses to process the tests can now be used to also detect influenza A and B in addition to COVID-19. Moving forward, symptomatic individuals tested on campus will be tested for all three diseases from a single swab.

The spring will also introduce more opportunities for student learning when ONU’s testing program becomes a vaccination program as well. ONU HealthWise has been approved by the CDC and Ohio Department of Health to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider. When ONU is selected to receive the vaccine, it will be available on campus as well as to people in Hardin County through the ONU Mobile Clinic, just as the testing program was open to at-risk members of the greater Ada community. More than 100 teachers and first responders from Ada and surrounding communities were tested for COVID-19 at ONU this fall.

“We are really proud of the fact that the testing program not only kept our campus safe, but that the University was once again able to be a good neighbor in our community. We are looking forward to taking the vaccine on the road and helping people in far-reaching areas of our county who might not otherwise have access,” says Rush.

From the very beginning of this crisis, ONU administrators knew that any successful plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic would need to draw upon the University’s strengths and natural advantages. Paramount among these were ONU’s allied health expertise and experience, and the success of the in-house testing program—coupled with the promise of the vaccination program to come—should give little doubt to the wisdom of that decision.