Students at USM, UWM tested for COVID-19 after Thanksgiving break

With Thanksgiving break over, leaders at Milwaukee-area schools and universities face yet another challenge. They're working to make sure students and faculty weren't served a side of the coronavirus over the holiday. 

Despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Thanksgiving gatherings could lead to another surge in cases of COVID-19, many people still ventured out. 

Officials at University School of Milwaukee and others are taking matters into their own hands to keep their classrooms COVID-19 free. 

"They have to have a negative test before they can return," said Gregg Bach, assistant head of school at USM.

In the school gym at USM in River Hills, there were no basketballs or referees Monday, Nov. 30, but instead, a test students were tasked with passing.

Gregg Bach, USM

"Everybody is taking the rapid antigen test," said Bach. "That is the test where you get results in 15 minutes. If you get a positive result, then immediately you go over to a station where you get the gold standard PCR test."

Bach said the measure will serve as a safety net before allowing students and teachers back into the classroom after Thanksgiving break. 

Peter Klug, Novir

"Anything you can do to add fold-in testing to all the other preventative measures you go through is just taking a little bit more risk out of the equation," said Peter Klug, Novir director of business and channel development.

Novir, which is based in Milwaukee, served as the lab on this project, while employees from REM Occupational Health & Wellness, Inc. administered the tests. 

Similar steps are being taken at universities like the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where students who live on campus are being tested twice -- once upon return to UWM, then again two days later. 

"Doing testing at an earlier stage, even before an individual has symptoms, is of paramount importance because we do know that asymptomatic transfer of the disease happens," said Dr. Aamir Siddiqi, UWM Student Health Center director of clinical services.

Despite testing efforts, officials on both campuses are reminding the community that one test is simply a snapshot in time. 

Employee with REM Occupational Health & Wellness, Inc.

"We can only control what happens in the school, so our message out to our community over and over again is please be safe. Follow the three Ws," said Bach. "Wash your hands, watch your distance and wear your mask."

On both campuses, if a student receives both positive rapid and PCR tests, they'll be asked to isolate. 

At USM, testing will wrap up on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Students who test negative can return to class Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on their grade level. School officials said similar steps will be taken following Christmas break. 

At UWM, in-person classes will not be held the week after Thanksgiving. Some face-to-face instruction will resume the week of Dec. 7. 

Meantime, Marquette University completed its fall classes the week of Thanksgiving; final exams will be taken remotely starting Tuesday. Regarding spring semester, which begins Jan. 25, 2021, Marquette officials released the following information to FOX6:

"The COVID response team is diligently at work assessing any additional measures that will be taken prior to students returning for the spring semester. Those preparations will be announced at a later date."