‘Second Opinion,’ Episode 8: COVID-19 Testing on Campus

“Second Opinion,” a new discussion series produced by L.A. Times Studios in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times newsroom, takes you to the forefront of medical research and conversations about health, science and technology.

Our eighth episode of “Second Opinion” focuses on testing on college campuses, where the approach to regulating COVID-19 has been uneven — with only some schools undertaking regular screenings of their entire student populations. Now, with the Thanksgiving break upon us, students will be returning home, raising concern about new infections.

For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is joined by Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, provost at Cornell University and a professor of molecular physiology. Kotlikoff will discuss Cornell’s successful testing regime, which helped bring cases to zero by October after an initial round of infections at the start of the school year. Also joining the discussion will be Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist studying the use of rapid tests on college campuses, and Chris Marsicano and Emily Rounds of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, a research group tracking coronavirus testing protocols on campuses nationwide. Marsicano is a professor at Davidson and founder of the initiative, and Rounds is a researcher and Davidson senior.

Dr. Michael Kotlikoff is the provost at Cornell University and a professor of molecular physiology. Before serving as provost, Kotlikoff was dean of the Austin O. Hooey of Veterinary Medicine at the university. Under his leadership, an animal lab at the school was converted into a state-of-the-art COVID-19 testing facility, capable of processing up to 50,000 tests a week. As a result of Cornell’s testing program, the school reached zero positive cases among its students and staff several times during the course of the fall semester.

Dr. Michael Mina is a physician, immunologist and assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Mina also serves as an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a leading genomics research facility, and earlier this year helped form the COVID testing program there, which has processed more than 400,000 tests on behalf of colleges and universities in New England and elsewhere. Mina is leading research into the widespread distribution of rapid COVID tests on college campuses.

Chris Marsicano is assistant professor of the practice in educational studies at Davidson College in North Carolina. He is also the founding director at the College Crisis Initiative (C2i), a data-driven project tracking how universities and colleges are responding to the pandemic. Various media outlets have collaborated with the C2i to analyze the different kinds of COVID-19 protocols implemented at campuses nationwide.

Emily Rounds is a senior at Davidson College and co-chief of operations of C2i. She is leading a new round of data collection for C2i and is also examining colleges’ exit testing plans for Thanksgiving break.