CSU lab conducts faculty and staff COVID-19 surveillance testing

Group of 3 researchers standing outside the HPCRL lab in lab coats and masks

A group of Colorado State University employees recently participated in a study to test asymptomatic essential CSU staff who worked on campus for more than 20 hours a week during the Colorado “stay-at-home” and “safer-at-home” orders.

Cross-campus collaboration

The aim of RESTARtT (Rational Effective Surveillance Testing Accelerating Return to Tasks) was to minimize the risk of outbreaks while pursuing a return to normal workforce productivity and function. This study was made possible by support from the Boettcher Foundation. Sue VandeWoude, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology and director of the One Health Institute, and Nicole Ehrhart, professor of clinical sciences and director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, are leading the study with collaborators across CSU.

Study participant getting blood drawn
Hayden Schoenberg performing a venous blood draw.

Laurie Biela, manager of research operations in the Human Performance Clinical Research Lab in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, and her staff — Hayden Schoenberg, Sarah Mast and Emma McGinnis, along with support from Scott Fahrner, M.D., HPCRL medical director — organized blood and nasal swabs sample collections from more than 500 CSU employees in less than two months.  Tracy Nelson, a professor in the HES department and director of the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU, led efforts to develop a survey and coordinate implementation, and Bailey Fosdick, associate professor of statistics, is managing data analysis.

“I got a first-hand chance to experience the RESTARtT study … and the research team performed impeccably,” said study participant Barry Braun, head of the Department of Health and Exercise Science and executive director of the HPCRL. “The whole process — my initial communication with Sarah Mast, the redcap sign-up and screening, scheduling, check-in with Sierra at the front desk, Hayden doing the nasal swab and venipuncture, and check-out with Sierra — everyone was incredibly professional, efficient, and followed the protocol to the letter. I was in and out in 10 minutes.”

Many other participants complimented the crew as being efficient, professional and capable, and greatly appreciated the opportunity to enroll in the study.

Survey and testing results

Study participant getting a nasal COVID-19 test
Emma McGinnis performing a nasal swab.

Participants completed a survey about work environment, COVID-19 protective behaviors including social distancing and mask wearing, past symptoms, exposures and testing as well as perceptions of risk and health behaviors. Viral tests were conducted in Professor Greg Ebel’s lab in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, by Kendra Quicke, graduate student Emily Fitzmeyer and Michael Young. Antibody testing was conducted by the CSU Health and Medical Center Laboratory, led by Lab Manager Tina Dihle and CSU Health Network Executive Director Lori Lynn, as well as the Advanced Diagnostic Labs at National Jewish Health.

No active infections were detected, and positive antibody results were only detected in two people, suggesting very low exposure among CSU employees between March and August. Survey results are being analyzed to understand employee behaviors, perceptions and risk factors associated with COVID-19, to guide preventative strategies on campus moving forward. Additional components of the study will assess antibody prevalence among workers in skilled nursing facilities in Colorado.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.