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Case Western Reserve University stocks campus vending machines with free COVID-19 PCR tests for students, staff, and faculty

The university has transformed 12 of its vending machines filled with the COVID-19 tests – with each machine holding about 250 tests.

CLEVELAND — Case Western Reserve University is making it easy for students, staff, and faculty to see if they have COVID-19.

Classes resumed for the spring semester on Monday and instead of seeing snacks and drinks available in some vending machines on campus, they were greeted with the opportunity to get free COVID-19 PCR tests.

The university has transformed 12 of its vending machines filled with the COVID-19 tests – with each machine holding about 250 tests.

“The vending machines are spread through campus,” Megan Koeth, Executive Director of the Department of Resiliency told 3News. “They’re anywhere from administrative areas, to academic, to residential areas on our campus. The goal is our students, staff, and faculty have to do reentry tests after breaks and they also have to take tests if they’ve been exposed or if they’re symptomatic, so this allows them to access the tests at any time.”

Before the vending machines were transformed, Case’s previous COVID-19 testing plan was restrictive of hours, so having this new accessibility is much more proactive.

“Our testing site went from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it didn’t really help those students that had clinical rotations or jobs or internships, so now they can go to the vending machine whenever is easy for them,” Koeth said. “They go and swipe their ID, take the test back in the residence hall and they can drop it back off.”

Staff comes by the vending machines twice a day to collect the samples, then run the tests through their in-house lab at the School of Medicine, with test results coming back within 24 hours or less.

“We are already flying through tests in the vending machines,” Koeth said. “We should be processing around 5,000 to 7,000 tests each week.”

Koeth says the university did some research on the vending machines approach, and reached out to The University of California, Los Angeles, who is one of the first schools to transform vending machines into tests.

“They have a very similar situation where they have an in-house lab that’s able to run the samples,” Koeth told 3News. “So, after we talked to their staff, we were able to get that idea and apply it here at Case.”

Case is using its in-house lab stocked with tubes that collect the saliva samples, so the university is not actually purchasing any tests, just using their own resources available on campus.

“Results come via a secure message to anyone at Case that has a CWRU health account with a note saying COVID-19 has been detected or not detected,” Koeth said. “Again, this is not available to the general public, only for students, staff, and faculty at Case.”

The university plans to have rapid antigen COVID-19 tests available on campus, but Koeth says the school will limit the number of tests students can get one test per week, due to a limited supply.

“As long as we have a need for testing, we feel that the vending machines will help fulfil that need,” Koeth said. “The vending machines aren't going anywhere.”

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