Academic Minute Podcast

Lior Rennert, Clemson University – Surveillance-Based Informative Testing for Mitigating COVID-19

Mitigating COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses is crucial.

Lior Rennert, assistant professor and biostatistician at Clemson University, examines one way to do so.

Dr. Rennert is an Assistant Professor in Clemson University’s Department of Public Health Sciences, with a specialty in infectious disease epidemiology, policy evaluation, and biostatistics. Dr. Rennert is a founding member of Clemson’s Public Health Strategy team, advising the university on public health strategies for SARS-CoV-2 mitigation and is responsible for the development of SARS-CoV-2 testing strategies.

Surveillance-Based Informative Testing for Mitigating COVID-19


As a founding member of our university’s public health strategy team, I have been applying my research expertise to develop, implement, and evaluate public health strategies to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 spread on university campuses. Due to the exponential growth of SARS-CoV-2 spread, the key to successful disease mitigation begins with preventing infectious individuals from arriving to campus and implementing rigorous testing and preventative measures throughout the semester.

At the onset of the Fall 2020 semester, my team developed and implemented a novel testing strategy to detect and contain COVID-19 outbreaks. We coined this strategy surveillance-based informative testing, abbreviated as SBIT. This involved using random surveillance testing to monitor COVID-19 prevalence in residence hall buildings, and upon detection of an outbreak, allocating a portion of the available tests the following day to the entire residence hall building where the outbreak occurred. Targeted testing of these “hot spots” was twice as likely to detect positive cases compared to random testing and significantly drove down disease prevalence over a two-week implementation period. We then implemented weekly testing for all on-campus students, further driving down prevalence and preventing outbreaks for the remainder of the semester.

While weekly testing is considered the gold standard for outbreak prevention, many institutions lack the necessary infrastructure for implementation. Most institutions provide only voluntary testing for their students, leaving many COVID-19 cases undetected which leads to large outbreaks on and off campus and in local communities. My post-hoc modeling study found that this strategy would have led to a 154% increase in COVID-19 cases over a two-month period compared to our SBIT strategy. Therefore, if institutions do not have the infrastructure for weekly testing, SBIT is a viable and effective intervention for disease mitigation that can prevent hundreds to thousands of infections throughout the semester.


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