University of Kentucky expands free COVID-19 testing to employees

This story originally appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

University of Kentucky employees who will be working on site this fall will be able to get free testing, the university’s president announced in an email to the campus on Friday afternoon.

“This testing is available for on-site faculty and staff, regardless of how frequently they will work on site,” Capilouto wrote in the email. “UK HealthCare will continue its employee testing that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 response in March.”

Free employee testing will begin on Monday. Employees will be able to start scheduling their tests on the same day. Testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m at the same places where students are being tested — the largest location being the drive-through at the Blue Lot at Kroger Field.

The UK-hired Wild Health, initially used only for testing students, will also test employees. The university originally planned to test up to about 30,000 students. Testing every student would have cost the university close to $1.35 million, however, the university was unlikely to hit that number, given that students are able to submit results from other providers and online-only students do not require tests.

The university has more than 14,000 full-time employees excluding UK Healthcare workers. Testing all of them would cost about $892,220 — each test costs UK $63.73.

Testing for employees is not mandatory, according to the university. Symptomatic employees were encouraged not to get tested on campus. They should instead contact their healthcare providers.

Previously, the university had planned required testing only for students, while employees could be tested for free only if symptomatic or for another medically necessary reason. The university has faced public pressure to change the policy.

The United Campus Workers of Kentucky, a vocal union of university workers and graduate students, had a call-in campaign to Capilouto’s office earlier Friday, and they demanded better health coverage for graduate student workers, more power to work remotely and free testing for employees.

“This is a big win for workers on campus,” said Julia Miller, a graduate student worker in the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the union. “We’re all important and I’m glad they’ve recognized that in regards to this issue.”

Miller said continued free testing of students and employees during the semester will be important for “keeping a handle on this virus.” But the university doesn’t have plans for additional mass testing after the first rounds. Instead, those with symptoms are urged to talk to University Health Services or other medical providers for instructions on testing.

According to the university, UK’s expansion of initial testing to employees was a result of feedback from the UK Staff Senate and the University Senate Council. UK’s published reopening “playbook” also called for making additional employee testing available after student testing had begun, a news release stated.

“In this unsure time, the Staff Senate has been proud to be heavily involved in the design and implementation around the restart process,” said UK Staff Senate Chair Jon Gent in a press release. “The expansion of testing for staff and faculty shows how much this administration listens to and cares for the entire UK community.”

UK’s mass testing of students who will be on campus began Monday and will last through Aug. 22. The university has publicly released results through two days of testing. Of 2,742 students tested, 23 were positive for the respiratory virus.

UK plans to release data daily on its website, but only after the positive numbers have been released to the county and state health departments. UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said the university hopes to include employee testing in the data as well.

Lexington-Fayette County Health Department officials said early Friday that they have 19 confirmed positives among UK students from Fayette County via UK’s testing. Not every student that tests positive is being included in Lexington’s numbers, the department said, just those students who are isolating in Fayette County. If a student isolates outside the county then they’ll be counted by a different health department.

Drive-through testing is available at the Blue Lot at Kroger Field. Employees will have to show their UK ID.

Walk-up tests are available at the following locations:

  • University-owned houses between State and University streets
  • The walkway between Blazer Dining and Boyd Hall off South Martin Luther King Boulevard
  • In Greek Park, just off Rose Lane
  • On the William T. Young Library lawn at Hilltop and Woodland avenues