Sentinel testing program has 'smooth' launch with expertise of Auburn faculty and students

Published: January 15, 2021

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Dave Brackett, coordinator of Clinical Services in the Harrison School of Pharmacy, is among those on the front lines working Auburn’s new “Let’s Test” sentinel testing program and furthering its effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

On designated testing days for the program—Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays—he can be found in the Scholarship Room of the Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum working with an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students from the Harrison School of Pharmacy and School of Nursing as well as Master of Social Work students to capture a snapshot of community health on campus amid the ongoing global pandemic.

“My role is to be a supervisor on the clinical side of what we're doing in terms of the swabbing and the actual testing component of what we're doing here at the sentinel testing,” he said. “So, I have been involved with some of the setup and definitely am going to be involved throughout the whole semester, overseeing what we're doing on the testing side.”

The new “Let’s Test” program launched this week and is being managed on campus—a change from the fall program that was operated through an externally contracted vendor. The new offering leverages Auburn’s wealth of faculty and clinical expertise and, in response to feedback, includes improvements to the process, with all on-campus students, faculty and staff now automatically being registered to participate and same-day test results being offered—thereby streamlining the notification process and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of quarantine, isolation and contact tracing.

“The biggest thing I want people to know is that this is not the same Sentinel testing program that we had last semester. That was being done by an outside entity,” Brackett said, noting some “hiccups” from that program have been addressed with the new offering. “We took over this program because we thought we could do it better. And I think you'll find that that's the case.”

One area of improvement, he said, is that the registration process is now gone.

“Everybody is already out there in the pool and you'll find out if you get invited to a sentinel test or not via email, and you can just show up at the appointed time and get your test,” he said. “Second, the testing process is smooth and easy. We're using a very easy testing material that doesn't require any sendoff. We have the results on site within 15 minutes. And third, the reporting process is going to be smooth and fast. And you're going to know your results not days later but that day or maybe the next day. The people who are positive are going to get notified that day by phone call.”

Participation in the new “Let’s Test” program is optional but highly encouraged and is being incentivized. The process involves a random selection of Auburn employees and students and will go a long way toward providing a good snapshot of the campus’ ongoing health status.

“We need you guys to come out and do this when you get asked to do it so that we can get the amount of information that really makes a difference,” Brackett said. “We need a certain percentage of our overall population to really make the sentinel testing work for us. And if we don't get that percentage, it's not as meaningful. So, the more people that come and do it the better.”

A word frequently used to describe the new process by those working the program is “smooth.” From the initial check-in at the Scholarship Room of the Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum to getting tested and receiving your results, the program is designed to be a quick and seamless experience. Even the test itself is quick and painless.

“You'll get a nasal swab, not a nasal pharyngeal, which people have heard about where it goes really deep into your nasal passages,” Brackett said. “This only goes less than an inch into your nostrils, and while it may tickle a little bit it does not hurt at all.”

Brackett said it’s an important program in keeping an eye on emerging virus trends on campus, to include those who might be asymptomatic. He said the testing better allows officials to know when to amplify protections or pull them back on campus based on how things are looking at any given time.

“So it (sentinel testing) gives us information that we can't really get any other way,” he said.

Brackett said the “Let’s Test” sentinel program has been running very well in its initial startup, and feedback from faculty and students has been great. He said an interesting detail about the program is that it involves much collaboration throughout campus.

“One of the nice features of something like this is that even though the Harrison School of Pharmacy is sort of taking the lead in setting some of this up, this is something that’s going to be interprofessional and collaborative throughout the university,” he said. “And that’s something that’s a big part of healthcare education these days. So, not only are our pharmacists and pharmacy students involved in this effort but also the nursing school and nursing students as well as Social Work. And beyond healthcare, we have Campus Security and Facilities and Risk Management and all sorts of other folks in helping us make sure this is successful, which is great.”

Students working the program say they, too, have been impressed with how well the process is running, and they call for their fellow classmates to embrace the program.

“I would just really like students to know how quick and easy of a process it is,” said Megan Kilgore, a fourth-year student in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “I feel like a lot of people get scared of COVID testing because they don't want the test to go all the way back to their brain. And you hear horror stories about it, but that's not the case here. It’s super easy. It just barely goes inside your nostril. It doesn't hurt at all. Completely painless. The whole process takes maybe five minutes.”

Conner Kistenaker, a third semester student in Auburn’s nursing program, agreed.

“Come join us down here,” he said. “If you get the email, come on down— it’s really not that long of a process, doesn’t take that much out of your day. It think it’s an amazing process.”