A masked person prepares to use a cotton swab on a patient.
VCU uses throat swabs — similar to a strep test — for asymptomatic prevalence testing. (Getty Images)

8 things you need to know about COVID-19 prevalence testing at VCU

Asymptomatic prevalence testing is quick, easy and free — and it helps our community stay safe.

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For some people, COVID-19 comes with no symptoms, making it hard to know who has the disease. To better understand the number of COVID-19 cases in the university community, Virginia Commonwealth University has been conducting asymptomatic prevalence testing — also called surveillance testing.

On a monthly basis, VCU tests up to 5% of the residential student population, who are randomly selected, and up to 2% of non-residential students and employees, who have volunteered to be tested.

Those selected for testing receive an email from “VCU COVID-19 Testing” that allows them to set up a free testing appointment for the following week, with testing offered Monday through Thursday on both campuses. When you set up your appointment, you’ll log in through Kallaco, which is also where you get your results. Universitywide results of asymptomatic testing are updated as they become available on the One VCU: Responsible Together dashboard.

If you get selected for asymptomatic testing, here are the eight things you should know:

1. There are two asymptomatic prevalence testing locations. You can choose the one most convenient for you.

On the Monroe Park campus, asymptomatic prevalence testing takes place at the Capital Assets and Real Estate Building at 800 W. Broad Street. On the MCV campus, testing is in the Hunton Student Center at 1110 E. Broad Street. When you set up your appointment, you can pick a time at the place that makes the most sense for you.

The testing facility on the Monroe Park campus is in a building that looks like a storefront, and inside, it’s set up almost like a hair salon might be, with a waiting area and multiple booths where each person can sit while they get tested.

2. All you need is your ID, your mask and an appointment.

Your ID allows you to check in so don’t forget it. If you don’t have a state ID, passport, driver’s license or other identification with you, your VCU ID will do just fine.

Have a mask on when you walk in; you’ll wear it at all times except when you are actively being tested.

You can come in a few minutes ahead of your appointment time to check in if you’d like and take a seat in the waiting area.

3. The whole process takes about 10 minutes and sometimes as little as five …

When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by a team member in a mask, who will hand you a sheet to fill out with your name, address, and a few other details. You’ll hand them your ID while you fill it out.

You may have to wait a minute or two if there’s someone ahead of you in line, but someone will call your name and usher you to a booth.

4. … and the test itself takes less than 30 seconds.

VCU uses throat swabs, also called oropharyngeal testing, to test for asymptomatic cases. This means someone will swab the back of your throat with what looks like an oversized Q-tip.

When you get tested, a VCU Health clinician will verify your name and date of birth. Then you’ll be asked to take off your mask, open your mouth and say “Ahhh.” If you’re not used to breathing on people since you’ve been wearing your mask a lot, you may be asked to say “Ahhh” a little louder.

As you say “Ahhh,” the VCU Health clinician will swab both sides of the back of your throat. In 30 seconds or less, the clinician should have all that’s needed to send your sample out for testing. Then you can put your mask on again.

5. It’s not scary.

There’s been a lot of talk about different kinds of testing being uncomfortable or invasive. But the throat swab is a lot like a strep test you may have had as a kid.

“It’s not as scary as it seems,” said Darien Kwiatkowski, a VCU Health clinician who works at one of the asymptomatic prevalence testing sites. “Some people are worried it will hurt, but it doesn’t hurt.”

6. Students can get a $10 Amazon gift card.

If you are a student, all you have to do is show up for your asymptomatic prevalence testing appointment and get tested, and you’ll walk out the door with a $10 Amazon gift card.

7. You’ll get an email letting you know your results are ready to view online.

Within four business days — and sometimes in less than 36 hours — you’ll get your test results back. You’ll get an email letting you know you can access the results through your Kallaco account.

If your results are positive or if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, call 1-804-MYCOVID or 1-804-692-6843 to be connected with Student Health Services or Employee Health and report your results or symptoms.

8. Your testing helps the VCU community stay safe.

While testing is just one component of VCU’s COVID-19 safety protocols, it’s an important one to gauge the proportion of people with COVID-19 in the VCU community.

If you live off-campus, it’s not too late to volunteer for testing. And if you’re a student living on or off campus, it’s quick and easy to schedule your appointment online, get tested in 10 minutes or less, get your results in just a few days, and get yourself an Amazon gift card just for coming in.

“Ultimately, getting tested helps our community improve,” Kwiatkowski said.

For more information, read about VCU’s COVID-19 testing efforts or hear from VCU’s Director of Student Health Services on other questions about safety precautions and testing.