Covid-19 athlete testing

As a part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Are the covid tests done on the football team included in UNL’s dashboard?”

According to an email from Leslie Reed, the public affairs director for the Office of University Communication, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s COVID-19 dashboard is based on data given from the Lancaster County Health Department, and the data from the Lancaster County Health Department is based only on tests with results confirmed by labs.

“Our dashboard is based upon data provided by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and includes confirmation PCR diagnostic testing of athletes,” Reed said. “However, the daily diagnostic antigen testing required of football student-athletes by the Big Ten Conference is not reported to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.”

The antigen tests are designed not to go to a lab but to get a result quickly. According to Reed, the antigen tests are a less accurate form of testing. That statement is also backed by the FDA.

According to the Big Ten, the conference partners with Biodesix and Quidel to push out the daily rapid tests. These two are responsible for the testing of Nebraska athletes and since these are antigen tests, the two companies do not report the results in Nebraska to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

But, if a Nebraska athlete tests positive, then the athlete must take a PCR test to confirm if he or she either tested positive or negative, in accordance with the Big Ten’s protocols.

The PCR test, or its longer name, a polymerase chain reaction, tests for the coronavirus by grabbing a small sample of DNA and expanding it until observable. According to the FDA, these tests take at least a day and are highly accurate.

On the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s coronavirus dashboard, cases are defined as a person with a positive laboratory result for Covid-19. 

If the PCR test is also positive, then the football player would be included in the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department dashboard as a positive or as a negative result in the dashboard. This is because it was processed at a lab.

Nebraska’s rapid testing of athletes is to get results back quickly and sometimes those tests can be wrong. The antigen tests are not lumped with the PCR tests because these are two different types of tests.

“We want cases from across our campus, including athletes, included in our dashboard,” Reed said. “But for our statistics to be meaningful, they have to measure the same thing.”