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Shrinking funding and demand forces BSU to pull back on its COVID-19 testing program

A sandwich board in an empty hallway directs people to the COVID-19 testing center on Boise State's campus.
Madison Park/Boise State University
Peter Cade/Getty Images
Campus School, COVID-19 Testing and Vaccinations, Photo by Madison Park

Reduced demand has forced Boise State University to lay off staff and reduce hours at its campus COVID-19 testing center. A program offering surveillance testing in local schools is also ending.

“As people have started to have rapid tests more available in the community, a lot of people are testing at home instead of coming into the clinic,” said Stephanie Hudon, Clinical Programs Director at Boise State.

She was among those who worked to establish a campus COVID-19 testing program in October 2020. A few months later, they expanded into a handful of local K-12 schools, testing between 700-1,000 kids each week at the program’s peak. (A disclaimer: testing included this reporter’s children, too).

“The strength of the program was basically in finding potential outbreaks in a school setting and then mitigating that outbreak situation by getting kids home and isolating in a timely manner,” she said. “We think we helped slow down spread within the schools that we did test.”

The PCR testing was largely grant-funded by the participating schools and heavily subsidized by Boise State. As fall enrollment slowed to around one-third of the previous school year, the program fell out of financial viability.

Hudon said she’d like to continue the surveillance testing if funding were available, but CDC guidelines - which Boise State adheres to - say surveillance testing is not necessary for those at low risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, like most children.

‘And we are going to leave test kits at all of the schools so that parents can drop them off here at Boise State,” she said.

On-demand in-person testing at Boise State is continuing but is only available between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays, a change made with recent demand down to around 90% from its peak last winter.

“That's kind of where that decrease in revenue came in, was through [reduced] insurance collections for that in-person testing,” Hudon explained.

Test kits administered off-site may be dropped off for processing at a 24-hour dropbox, but any kits received after about 5 p.m. will likely sit overnight. The school’s vaccine clinic continues to operate by appointment two or three days a week and includes the most current COVID-19 boosters and this season’s flu vaccine for all eligible ages.

Hudon said she’s thankful many of the workers recently laid off from the testing center have landed other positions at the University. She said a partnership with the Boise School District for on-demand testing of its students and staff is continuing.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.