Concerns emerge over allocation of COVID-19 testing at UVA, large percentage of resources goes to athletes

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - There is some frustration over how COVID-19 testing is being allocated at the University of Virginia. The athletics department administered 1,168 tests over the last week with 945 of them coming straight from UVA Health and the rest from a third party.

Those tests account for a major chunk of overall testing, and some wonder if the department is getting special treatment. "They made a choice and the choice was athletics,” UVA Graduate Student Thomas Storrs said.

According to the UVA COVID Tracker, a total of 2,392 tests across the staff, students, faculty, and contact tracers have been administered in the past week.

That means athletic tests account for over 48% of overall university testing in the past week, which Storrs and many others on social media have an issue with.

“The current allocation of those tests I think is unfair to Charlottesville and doesn’t make academics have priority,” Storrs said.

In the period between September 22 and September 28, the university processed a total of 4,368 COVID-19 tests, taken from UVA students, faculty, staff, and members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle community.

During that period, 945 tests were ordered through UVA Health for student-athletes, comprising 22% of tests.

“That’s really bad and it would have been helpful if we had more information about that,” Storrs said.

Storrs says since both athlete and student testing results are combined on the dashboard, the percent positivity rate is skewed across the board.

“The fact that the athlete tests, which has a positivity rate of about 2%, are combined with the non-athlete test, obscures how bad COVID is in the non-athlete population,” he said.

In the past, the athletics department has pointed out UVA athletes have stronger restrictions when compared to regular students. Coaches have applauded the success of the “bubble” that the football team has created. For this very reason, Storrs believes the student and student-athlete numbers should be separated on the dashboard.

“The positivity rate for students that aren’t athletes is probably close to 20%, and it appears to only be 9% because they’re combined with the athletics test and 20% positivity is among the worst in the world," Storrs added.

During the competition seasons, UVA Athletics teams follow the Atlantic Coast Conference’s testing protocols.

This requires all team members in football, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball to be tested three times each week. Storrs wonders why they cannot boost testing for non-athletes.

“I’m not sure why UVA doesn’t have sufficient testing capacity. It’s a major university with an excellent hospital," he said. “I’m baffled why we can’t do more tests and I think that’s more baffling than the current allocation of tests.”

According to the University’s testing policy, Student Health and Wellness will only test students who have symptoms or were identified as close contact. This forces many students to go to third parties and pay to get tested.

“There’s inadequate testing for the rest of the population at UVA," Storrs said.

According to ACC Medical Advisory guidance, the third COVID-19 test administered the day before competition is conducted by a third party, not UVA Health. These figures are still included in COVID-19 totals on the UVA virus dashboard.


Full Statement from UVA:

The University tests student-athletes in accordance with the standards the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Medical Advisory Group sets for each sport. Most of the tests are conducted by UVA Health. In the case of football, the ACC requires the University to test athletes three times a week and for the third test to be performed by a third party. The more frequent testing of UVA student-athletes reflects the nature of the sports they play, which often requires athletes to come into close or direct physical contact. In order to keep our student-athletes, coaches, and the people they come into contact with healthy and to make competition possible, we follow the standards for enhanced testing.

The UVA COVID Tracker reflects all tests that are administered or provided by the University of Virginia, including student-athletes. In the period between September 22 and September 28, the University processed a total of 4,368 COVID-19 tests, taken from UVA students, faculty, staff, and members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle community. During that period, 945 tests were ordered through UVA Health for student-athletes, comprising 22% of tests. In the interest of public health and transparency, UVA Athletics reports the totality of its test results every week, which includes tests administered at UVA as well as those taken by a third party.

Through it’s COVID-19 Prevention, Detection, and Response Plan, UVA is conducting tests for every individual who presents with symptoms or is a close contact someone who tested positive. We are also conducting asymptomatic prevalence testing for University students, providing asymptomatic testing for employees and contractors, and running weekly community testing events. Finally, today we announced that we will begin a new saliva testing program this week, which we anticipate will result in a dramatic expansion of the University’s testing capacity over time. More about that here: https://news.virginia.edu/content/saliva-testing-program-begins-week-providing-more-rapid-screening

Copyright 2020 WVIR. All rights reserved.