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University of Idaho plans to test students returning to campus for coronavirus

The lab will be ran in conjunction with Moscow's Gritman Medical Center. Students will be moving in over a three-week period in August.

MOSCOW, Idaho — All students returning to the University of Idaho this fall for in-person classes will be tested for coronavirus through a university COVID-19 testing lab, school leaders announced.

The lab, which is being operated in conjunction with Moscow's Gritman Medical Center, will serve as a crucial element to keeping campus healthy, the school said.

In a memo sent to faculty and staff members this week, UI President Scott Green reiterated the university's commitment to re-opening campus with COVID-19 protocols in place.

"Let us emphasize that we are committed to be open for in-person classes this fall," wrote Green in the memo. "This is only possible because we have made truly incredible progress working with healthcare experts and our partners at Gritman Medical Center to design specific safety protocols."

The testing lab, which is expected to conduct an estimated 24,000 tests on returning students according to university estimates, will be able to turn around test results in 24 hours, the school said.

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"We have put in place a lot of protocols and gone above and beyond what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is recommending," said UI Communications Director Jodi Walker.

According to Walker, UI plans to adopt a "high-flex model" for in-person classes this year. In most instances, students will alternate days spent learning in a classroom with online instruction in an effort to reduce the amount of people in campus buildings. Some classes will be conducted totally online, Walker said.

Additionally, the university plans to take temperature readings of people entering certain high-traffic buildings on campus like the Kibbie Dome.

UI's plan is noticeably different from that of Washington State University, just half-a-dozen miles away in Pullman. This month, WSU announced plans to conduct most of its undergraduate classes online.

Green addressed the differences between WSU's plan and UI in his memo, citing UI's "uniquely robust set of safety measures."

"While going online could make our job easier in some ways, it would be the worst possible outcome for many employees and students," wrote Green.

RELATED: UK scientists to immunize hundreds with coronavirus vaccine

UI's push for on-campus instruction has drawn some skepticism from both students and faculty members alike. Green, in his memo, said the university understood the "anxiety" felt by some.

When asked about WSU's decision to go primarily online with classes compared to the University of Idaho, Walker cited differences in state guidelines and noted UI's status as a state school along with the university's campus culture.

"The University of Idaho is a residential campus. Our students come here for the experience of being on the Moscow campus," she said. "We have an obligation to them to be able to deliver in that way. And that's what they're paying for, that's what they expect."

Walker noted that UI's capability to conduct its own COVID-19 testing was another major factor in being able to offer on-campus instruction. Campus researchers would be aiding in tracking campus test data as well.

"We're going to be able to keep track of where things are at," she said.

UI plans to have its testing lab up and running by next week. According to Walker, students plan to return to campus over a three-week period in August. The university's dorm move-in event has been staggered over the course of a week instead of traditionally taking place on a single day.