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Frequently asked questions: COVID-19 surveillance testing at Stanford

The COVID-19 surveillance testing program, which launched in Autumn 2020, provides regular testing for individuals who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. From January 4 – May 1, 2021, participation in the program was required for on-site Stanford faculty, staff and postdocs.

However, on May 2, 2021, required testing for faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars coming to campus became voluntary.

From September 9, faculty, staff and postdocs who are not fully vaccinated or who do not disclose their vaccination status will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. While regular testing will not be required for those who have provided proof they are fully vaccinated, voluntary surveillance testing will remain available to any employee or postdoc who wishes to access it. 

This web page provides answers to questions about Stanford’s testing program and will be updated.

Program Overview

What is the surveillance testing program? (updated)

“Surveillance” testing refers to regular testing for individuals who are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. Surveillance testing is provided for free to students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars, and is an added safeguard to minimizing the spread of COVID-19. 

Student testing program: The plan provides COVID-19 surveillance testing for students living on or coming to campus. Additional information on the student testing requirement is available on this page.

Faculty, staff and postdoc testing program: The plan offers surveillance testing for Stanford faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars who have been approved to work on-site.

Effective May 2, 2021, required testing for faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars approved to come to campus is voluntary. However: (1) We recommend you continue to test weekly until you are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals may choose to test upon return from travel, or if you are symptomatic following exposure to COVID-19. (2) Postdoctoral scholars living on campus will still be required to test weekly, as is the case for graduate students who are in similar housing.

From September 9,In fall 2021, faculty, staff and postdocs who are not fully vaccinated or who do not disclose their vaccination status will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. While regular testing will not be required for those who have provided proof they are fully vaccinated, voluntary surveillance testing will remain available to any employee or postdoc who wishes to access it. 

Additional information for faculty, staff and postdoc testing is available on this page.

Why is testing no longer a requirement for faculty and staff? (New question)

We are making these adjustments at the recommendation of the university’s Testing Oversight Committee, which has been monitoring COVID-19 conditions and their implications for our surveillance testing programs. 

Thanks to the efforts of our community, the prevalence of COVID-19 at Stanford has remained low over the last several weeks (see the Stanford COVID dashboards), and San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties have progressively met the low positivity rate criteria for moving to less-restrictive tiers. 

In parallel, vaccination rates are rising rapidly amongst the Stanford community, California, and the United States. This is a testament to our community’s respect for public health and its embrace of the safeguards that are necessary to keep one another healthy and safe. 

While testing is no longer a requirement, it will continue to play an important role in Stanford’s pandemic response. Student testing requirements will remain in place through spring quarter.

Testing will remain available at no cost to on-site faculty, staff, and postdocs on a voluntary basis. In particular, unvaccinated individuals are still encouraged to test weekly. 

Vaccinated individuals may choose to test upon return from travel, or if you are symptomatic following exposure to COVID-19.

We hope that the ongoing availability of testing, in addition to the safety protocols implemented across the university such as physical distancing, the use of face coverings as per current guidance, enhanced cleaning and good hygiene practices, will continue to provide support and confidence to support the reopening of campus operations.

How is my safety being ensured now that testing is voluntary for faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars? (New question)

Safety protocols remain firmly in place to help stop the spread of infection. We recommend you continue to test weekly until you are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals may choose to test upon return from travel, or if you are symptomatic following exposure to COVID-19. Face coverings are still required as per current guidance, and we still require everyone on-site to wash their hands often, maintain social distancing and follow all guidance from the university, State and County officials. 

Students, employees and postdocs who are on-site are still required to self-report their health status using the Health Check tool. In Fall 2021, Stanford will require all undergraduate, graduate and professional students coming to campus to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Those who cannot be vaccinated by then will be required to undergo regular testing.

Who is providing the testing?

With the volume of testing Stanford is seeking to provide, and with the ongoing supply-chain challenges that have resulted from the pandemic, we identified two testing systems that utilize different supply chains. We have contracted with two companies that have each received an emergency use authorization from the FDA for the testing they will be providing for our community. Our medical experts have reviewed the testing methodologies and are confident in their rigor.

For students, sample collection and processing will be overseen by Color Genomics. Here is more information.

For Stanford faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars, we have contracted with Color Genomics, a company specializing in population health management, to provide nasal-swab testing kits for self-collection and to perform the clinical lab testing on each kit submitted by members of our community. Color’s technology uses a LAMP diagnostic assay. 

Both assays test for the presence of the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Presence of the viral genome is an indication that a person is currently infected with the virus. These tests do not screen for antibodies against the virus, which are associated with previous infection.

How long will you offer free testing? (updated)

Free surveillance testing will remain an important component of the university’s strategy to keep students, employees, and postdocs healthy and safe for the foreseeable future. From September 9, students, faculty, staff and postdocs who are not fully vaccinated or who do not disclose their vaccination status will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. While regular testing will not be required for those who have provided proof they are fully vaccinated, voluntary surveillance testing will remain available to any employee or postdoc who wishes to access it. 

What should I do if I’m experiencing COVID-19 symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms, information about seeking care is available here

All members of the Stanford community who study, teach, work or conduct research at any Stanford location, including the main campus, Stanford Redwood City and SLAC are required to report symptoms on Health Check.

Vaden Health Services, Health Check, or the university’s Occupational Health Center can provide additional information.

Participation

Who can participate in the testing program?

Students: 

Stanford is providing a free ongoing screening program for graduate and professional students.  Graduate students and undergraduate students who live on-campus are required to test regularly according to the testing cadences on this page. Students who live off-campus are required to test at least once per week when visiting campus.

Faculty and staff

Effective May 2, required routine surveillance testing for faculty and staff approved to come on campus is voluntary.

Vaccinated individuals may choose to test upon return from travel, or if you are symptomatic following exposure to COVID-19.

In addition, you must report your health status in Health Check whenever you are scheduled to be on-site. Note, if you are experiencing symptoms and have been on-site in the last 14 days, you must report symptoms in Health Check, which will provide additional guidance.

Why are students required to participate in testing?

Information on the student testing requirement is available on this page.

Is testing required for faculty and staff? (updated)

No. Effective May 2, 2021, while testing is no longer a requirement, it will continue to play an important role in Stanford’s pandemic response. Testing will remain available at no cost to on-site faculty, staff, and postdocs on a voluntary basis. Unvaccinated individuals are still encouraged to test weekly.  Vaccinated individuals may choose to test upon return from travel, or if you are symptomatic following exposure to COVID-19.

Is testing required for postdoctoral scholars? (updated)

Postdoctoral scholars living on campus in R&DE-assigned housing are still required to test on a weekly basis. Testing will be voluntary for postdoctoral scholars not living on campus. 

Additional information on the postdoc testing requirement is available on this page.

If I received a testing kit, can I share it with a family member or friend?

No. The testing kits may only be used by the designated faculty, student, staff member or postdoctoral scholar. 

Friends and family can be tested through their healthcare provider, at one of Stanford Health Care’s locations throughout the Bay Area or through a County testing site. For more information, view the Where Can I Get Tested page.

I picked up a Color testing kit, but I cannot create my Color account. What should I do?

If you are unable to create your Color Testing account, make sure you are using your primary Stanford University email address (SUNETID@stanford.edu). Do NOT use a personal email or Stanford alias email. If you do not know your Stanford University email, or are unsure how to access your primary Stanford email, please contact the University IT Service Desk at  650-725-4357 or by submitting an online ticket.

Information on student testing and eligibility is available on this page.

Please note: If you are a contingent or casual employee, you may not have a Stanford-sponsored email. You will need to ask your supervisor to email covidtestinghelp@stanford.edu with your name, SUNET ID or employee ID, and your personal email address to help you create a Color testing account.

Are Stanford contractors, interns, vendors and affiliates eligible for the testing program? (updated 4/29/21)

Effective May 2, 2021, required routine surveillance testing for vendors, contractors and affiliates coming to campus is voluntary. Individuals in these categories who have not yet been vaccinated are encouraged to test through their health care provider, at one of Stanford Health Care’s locations throughout the Bay Area, or through a county testing site. See this page for more information. 

Can employees working at Stanford Hospital participate in surveillance testing?

Stanford Medicine has launched a COVID-19 surveillance testing program with Color Genomics, which provides testing to physicians, clinicians, medical residents, fellows, and postdocs who work in patient care areas and perform clinical research in a medical setting. All employees across all Stanford Medicine entities are encouraged to test weekly using the Color Genomics self-administered testing program. All Stanford Medicine employees that are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms are eligible. 

Those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should contact the COVID-19 Healthcare Workforce Response Team (HRT) at 650-497-9595 or SHC-VC OccHealth at 925-534-0230. Stanford Medicine employees should review hospital intranet sites for updated information. 

The testing process

What does the testing process consist of?

Students can learn more about surveillance testing here.

Stanford faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars can learn more about surveillance testing here.

What if I can’t use the technology required for the Color testing for faculty, staff and postdocs?

The university Occupational Health Center (484 Oak Road) will also offer surveillance testing for individuals who face any technological, language or other barriers to participation. Consult your local HR manager, DFA, DFO or the Postdoctoral Affairs Office, or if you wish, you may schedule testing through the university Occupational Health Center at https://ehs.stanford.edu/covidtest.

What is the turn-around time for results?

The majority of results will be available within 24-72 hours.  

Who will see my test results?

Laboratories must report all test results to public health authorities consistent with applicable laws and guidance. In addition, Stanford must report positive test results to public health authorities, consistent with applicable laws and guidance.

Student testing information is available on this page.

For faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars, individual test results will be available to the participant, Environmental Health & Safety, the Occupational Health Center, limited other university offices to protect the Stanford community and prevent further spread of COVID-19 (such as exposure notification, cleaning, isolation and processing the information), and Color. Laboratories must report all test results to public health authorities consistent with applicable law and guidance. As noted above, Stanford also must report positive test results to public health authorities, consistent with applicable laws and guidance.

Deidentified test results will be aggregated to monitor community prevalence of COVID-19 at Stanford.

What happens if my test comes back positive?

Those who test positive through surveillance testing should self-isolate and refrain from leaving their isolation housing if living on campus or coming to campus if living off campus. Those living on campus in R&DE-assigned housing will receive isolation support and accommodations, including meal delivery at no cost to students. 

Student testing information is available on this page.

For faculty, staff and postdocs: If your test is positive, you’ll be asked to self-isolate and refrain from coming to campus (if you live on campus, you may continue doing so while adhering to self-isolation guidelines). You’ll be asked to complete Health Check to update your test status. The university Occupational Health Center will reach out to you about receiving a confirmatory test and will initiate exposure notification for close contacts as defined here. Expect an additional call or follow-up by the local county public health department for contact tracing efforts. If you are having severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Other Testing Program questions

Who sees the results of my test? Will my data be used for other Color testing programs, such as genetic testing? 

Stanford’s testing vendor is Color Genomics. Color adheres to strict privacy and security controls and is HIPAA-compliant. You may view their COVID terms of serviceNotice of Privacy Practices, COVID HIPAA authorization, and COVID informed consent to learn more. They will not use your data for genetic testing.

Your test results will also be available to Environmental Health & Safety, the Occupational Health Center, and limited other university offices to protect the Stanford community and prevent further spread of COVID-19 (such as exposure notification, cleaning, isolation and processing the information). Deidentified test results will be aggregated to monitor community prevalence of COVID-19 at Stanford. 

Laboratories must report all test results to public health authorities consistent with applicable law and guidance. Stanford also must report positive test results to public health authorities, consistent with applicable laws and guidance.

Do Color test kits have particular storage or temperature requirements? 

Color test kits do not have any particular storage or temperature requirements. They can be kept at room temperature and do not have an expiration date.

How do contingent staff who do not have a Stanford email register for the program?

If you are a temporary or casual employee who does not use Stanford email, please update your email address in StanfordYou in the “Maintain Directory and AlertSU Emergency Contact Info >> SU Contact Info” section. Provide the personal email address that you would like to use for your Color account. For further assistance, contact covidtestinghelp@stanford.edu.

Should non-exempt employees include the time spent testing on their timecard?

Yes, non-exempt employees should record their time for picking up/dropping off test kits, as well as the testing time required if administered through Occupational Health. This should be done during regular work hours unless approved in advance by the employee’s supervisor.

How accurate are the Color tests?

This assay has a >99% accuracy with a limit of detection of 0.75 copies/uL for samples processed up to 72 hours from collection time. Positive results are indicative of an active infection with SARS-CoV-2 but do not rule out bacterial infections or co-infection with other viruses. Negative results do not eliminate the possibility of a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The sample collection technique can meaningfully impact test sensitivity. False positives and false negatives are possible. False negatives can occur for several reasons including (but not limited to) reduced sensitivity due to a viral load below the limit of detection of this assay, or mutations in the targeted viral sequence, or the presence of amplification inhibitors. For more information on Color’s COVID-19 test, please visit https://www.color.com/covid19-details.

What are the different result types, and what does an inconclusive test indicate?

Color provides four result types:

  • Positive for SARS-CoV-2. Positive indicates that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) was detected in the patient’s sample. False positives are possible.
  • Negative for SARS-CoV-2. Negative indicates that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) was not detected in the patient’s sample. False negatives are possible.
  • Inconclusive result for SARS-CoV-2. Inconclusive indicates that the test results were internally inconsistent and cannot be classified as either positive or negative.
  • Unsatisfactory sample. Test could not be completed.

A sample may be rejected or significantly delayed if they arrive with:

  • Insufficient, incompatible or congealed media in specimens collected in transport media
  • Dry swabs that arrive more than 56 hours after sample collection
  • Improperly capped or labeled tubes
  • Swabs inverted in collection tubes (i.e. swab bud facing up)
  • Missing physician order
  • Incomplete or missing patient information
  • Not in compliance with Color’s Terms of Service

I recovered from COVID-19 and have been told that I should NOT test for 90 days after my positive test. Do I still need to test within those 90 days?

No. To date, COVID-19 reinfection appears to be uncommon during the  90 day period after symptom onset. After this 90 day period, you may need to resume COVID-19 surveillance testing by participating in Stanford’s COVID Testing Program. 

Where can I direct questions about the program?

You may direct them by email to health-alerts@stanford.edu.