KU Leuven: COVID test center Pauscollege closes its doors. Integrated contact tracing wins praise from WHO

71,656 COVID-PCR tests, or an average of 122 per day, with an outlier of 836 tests in 1 day. These are the impressive figures with which the KU Leuven test center for students concludes. The contact tracing that was linked to it was also very successful and received praise from, among others, the World Health Organization WHO. From 1 June, Leuven students can visit the test street of UZ Leuven.

October 2020. To relieve Leuven’s general practitioners and hospitals, KU Leuven started its own test center for all Leuven students. It was housed in the University Hall in Naamsestraat. In May 2021, the test center moved to a tent at the Van Dale College, and in November, with winter approaching, the students were able to have themselves tested in the Pope’s College.

More than 70,000 tests were taken during that entire period. Just over 6,000 of those were positive. A figure that is lower than in the general population. “That proves that our approach was approachable and very accessible,” says Caspar Geenen of the Laboratory of Clinical Microbiology. “Students handled the situation very responsibly and were quickly tested in case of symptoms.”

The cooperation of students was also there in contact tracing. “The number of contacts identified per infection was more than twice the national average,” said researcher Joren Raymenants. “We also identified 42% more infections thanks to our source research. Those numbers are also impressive.”

Praise from the WHO
The World Health Organization WHO therefore praises the Leuven approach, because it fully integrated testing and contact tracing. Insights from Leuven have already led to adjustments to the WHO guidelines for contact tracing.
It will take years before all data from the contact investigation has been analysed, but the scientific value is great. In the coming months, the insights will be presented at international scientific conferences and publications in scientific journals will follow.

Praise for students
The test center would not have been able to run all those months without the help of hundreds of job students. “For example, with a limited number of permanent employees, we were able to handle peaks of 836 tests in one day,” says Sarah Gorissen, coordinator of the collection center. “Students were deployed for the patient administration, those with a medical background took tests, and a number of students were even responsible for the daily coordination.”

Lessons for the future
“Our test center and contact tracing have played a crucial role in the fight against corona and have also allowed us to organize a significant part of our education on campus at all times,” says Rector Luc Sels. “The accumulated experience and insights mean that we are ready to intervene quickly in case of new needs. I would therefore like to expressly thank the colleagues and students who have kept the test center up and running over the past 20 months. Our experts who were responsible for the scientific supervision also deserve praise.” Students in Leuven who still need a PCR test can visit the public test center of UZ Leuven on Campus Gasthuisberg from 1 June.