HOUSTON – Baylor Genetics, a clinical diagnostics laboratory known for genetic testing and precision medicine, and Rice University, a private, comprehensive research university, have partnered to create a first-of-its-kind, total turnkey solution for the university to resume in-person classes for the fall semester despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For Baylor Genetics and Rice University, this partnership represents a moon-shot opportunity to benefit students, faculty, and staff,” Kengo Takishima, President and Chief Executive Officer at Baylor Genetics, said in a news release. “It is imperative families have peace of mind as they send their children to college and we’ve set an aggressive goal of serving as a blueprint for other academic institutions and, more broadly, society.”
Many universities nationwide have been strongly impacted by the pandemic and have announced changes to the fall semester. One of the major changes is universities going fully online for the semester.
The news release said Rice has been able to overcome many challenges brought on by COVID-19 thanks to its partnership with Baylor Genetics.
“In terms of learning online, I found that it wasn’t that intuitive and effective for my own learning style. In addition to that, it is my senior year and I wanted to get one last taste of the community that I have come to grow and love here,” said Victor Nguyen, a senior at Rice University, in an interview released by the university. “Being on campus again feels a little bit more of what we are used to, even though we live in a new reality. It’s closer to normal so it’s exactly what we were hoping for.”
This partnership entails Baylor Genetics providing support for temperature checks, on-campus sample collection and transport logistics, processing of samples, and customized results reporting for individuals via email. Nearly 60,000 screening tests will be performed by Baylor Genetics with a turnaround time of 48 hours or less.
In addition to large-scale surveillance testing, the partnership includes population management reporting. This custom reporting system delivers population data to assist policymakers at Rice with managing the campus community and by aiding in intelligent decision making.
“Testing by itself is not enough,” said Kevin Kirby, Rice University’s Vice President for Administration. “What matters is how we use that information to act quickly to isolate, treat, contact trace, and quarantine those affected. A systematic approach is the best practice for creating an environment that will mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
In addition, data tracking will provide the university with specific trends and infection rates on buildings, facilities, and housing throughout the campus.
Rice said in the news release that the innovative approach is part of the university’s strategy to prevent cross-contamination and ensure the safety of its faculty, students, and staff. There are plans to extend the partnership with symptomatic testing in the near future.
“This opportunity is a chance to demonstrate that we can operate safely in such a difficult time,” said Chad Shaw, Ph.D., Senior Director of the Baylor Genetics Innovation Lab, Adjunct Professor of Statistics at Rice University, and Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.
“As a Houstonian and a member of both the Baylor and Rice faculty, I am excited by the opportunity to serve my community – to find a thoughtful and creative way to overcome the COVID challenge. It takes commitment, grit, and a team effort,” Shaw said.
The program began the week of Aug. 3 with college staff, graduate students, and orientation coordinators. For students, testing is broken down into three phases and began Aug. 15. There will be no charge to faculty, students or staff for the on-campus testing.
For members of the Rice community who are confirmed positive for the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), Rice will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact-tracing protocols to identify others who have had significant contact with those tested positive.
Baylor Genetics’ test for COVID-19 has one of the highest sensitivity (true positive rate) and specificity (true negative rate) rates for identifying active coronavirus infection, the news release said.
– FWBP Staff