COVID on campus: ETSU to begin random COVID-19 testing next week

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Random tests of 800 volunteers will help officials monitor spread of virus, ETSU president says

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the fall semester continues in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, East Tennessee State University president Brian Noland said Friday that random, weekly COVID-19 testsing is in the university’s toolbox to track the spread of the virus.

Noland’s updates around the COVID-19 pandemic were part of the ETSU Board of Trustees meeting on Friday. He said that more than 800 students, faculty and staff had agreed to random COVID-19 testing throughout the semester beginning next week.

“Throughout the remainder of the semester, we’ll pull from that sample set and we’ll run about 50 or so random tests a week every week for the rest of the semester,” Noland said. “(This will) give us advance information and reconnaissance about how COVID may or may not be moving through the campus,”

Noland said the testing will be headed by ETSU Health.

Enrollment took a predicted hit from the pandemic, Noland continued, mirroring a nationwide trend of declining enrollment into the fall semester.

While enrollment declined at ETSU, Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Joe Sherlin said enrollment fell by about 3.4% for the fall semester, or a drop of about 446 students.

“I will say that that’s not where we wanted to finish, not where we wanted to be,” Sherlin said.

Sherlin said he believed efforts by administration to contact individual students directly over the summer boosted student retention. Noland and Sherlin both said that one of the biggest blows came from a bust in international student enrollment.

In 2016, 678 international students enrolled on ETSU campus, and that number plummeted this year to 288.

“If we could have just held the international numbers constant, we would have not had an enrollment decline at the university,” Noland noted.

Despite slipping enrollment numbers, ETSU hit a milestone by reporting the highest retention rate and graduation rate in the school’s history.

Student retention from last fall shot up to 78%, and the graduation rate tied with its previous record set last year.

“In a pandemic, record student success,” he said.

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