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Pharmacy Faculty, Students Collaborate with Campus Partners to Provide Economical COVID Testing of Ferris Student-Athletes

PhotoShown in this photo are the Hagerman Pharmacy Building and the Allied Health Building at Ferris State University.

Ferris State University faculty from the College of Pharmacy, College of Health Professions, and Pharmacy students have produced a report for the journal Exploratory Research in Clinical and Social Pharmacy. The report summarizes efforts to monitor Ferris student-athletes for COVID-19 during the 2020-21 academic year.

Professor of Pharmacy Practice Michael Klepser said their diagnostic accuracy study, “Performance of the BD Veritor system SARS-CoV-2 antigen test among asymptomatic collegiate athletes,” grew out of collaborative efforts that began in August. University administrators and faculty experts began discussions about testing athletes who would practice without masks to determine whether they may have contracted the virus but were asymptomatic.

“Polymerase chain reaction testing or the PCR method of identifying COVID-19 cases could give us accurate results but would have been cost-prohibitive and not as efficient for confirming possible positive tests,” Klepser said. “The BD Veritor antigen-based testing program was chosen, as positive readings could be determined in about 15 minutes, using analyzers that cost $330 apiece.”

Klepser said Ferris had to comply with testing requirements established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“We began testing athletes in earnest during November 2020, as their teams’ schedules had been adjusted to begin later than usual, by a matter of weeks or months,” Klepser said. “There were over 3,300 individual tests conducted on 460 athletes in 15 university sports, along with their coaches, from early November to mid-February 2021. The antigen-based testing strategy allowed us to assert that a negative response from an asymptomatic person was indicative of their health status, in terms of COVID-19.”

The report on Ferris’ testing program showed 21 positive test results from 18 individuals, which saw those persons re-tested using the PCR method. Of that group, there were five confirmed cases of COVID-19 through tests processed at a Kalamazoo laboratory.

“Had we done this testing solely through the use of PCR kits, the program would have cost nearly $285,000,” Klepser said. “With the BD Veritor analyzers, we could monitor the athletes and follow up with PCR testing to confirm results for less than $70,000. Clearly, the program offered significant cost savings for the university, while assuring the health and safety of those individuals in our athletic programs, during their training, practices and competition.”

The secondary benefit for those who administered the testing and oversaw this monitoring program was the experiential learning it offered, along with the camaraderie with those campus operations that were directly or indirectly involved in this process.

“I was so impressed by the collaboration that this presented, among our colleges, and various university departments, so the program was run well and managed appropriately,” Klepser said. “We were contacted by Muskegon Community College when they sought input on presenting a manageable monitoring program, and our staff provided weekly testing to athletes at Grand Rapids Community College for their seasons. This whole testing program was something that students, faculty, and administrators in the Colleges of Pharmacy and Health Professions rallied around and supported so that the program could be a success.”

Klepser also acknowledged Ferris’ Housing and Residence Life operation and Administration and Finance division for their dedication to the program. Other university contributors to the report to be published in the September 2021 issue of the pharmacy journal include College of Pharmacy graduates Jaelin Genigeski, of Bay City; and Casey Kepczynski, of Rochester Hills; associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Minji Sohn, associate professor of Clinical Lab Sciences Daniel deRegnier and assistant professor of Public Health Emmanuel Jadhav.

“The testing program that was offered certainly proved to be a unique clinical rotation for our students, full of practical applications with respect to public health responses and clinical applications,” Klepser said. “We had looked into responses to a pandemic earlier in the semester in one of my classes, then the actual situation developed before us. Overseeing and offering this program was much more beneficial than the tabletop exercise discussions we took up in years past.”