COVID-19 asymptomatic surveillance study

Study objective

This investigation aims to protect the health and safety of students and instructors in veterinary clinical training at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The project also sets out to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of a strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by frequent, pooled testing among asymptomatic people for the virus compared to self reporting COVID-19 symptoms.

We expect results from this study will help us detect COVID-19 infections quickly to reduce disease spread and avoid a large shut-down. Findings could lead to a more cost and time-effective surveillance system for medical professional training programs with clinical rotations.

Study overview

CVM faculty are collaborating with researchers at the School of Public Health to roll out a surveillance study of COVID-19 among asymptomatic individuals. The study will compare the incidence of COVID-19 infection in individuals participating in asymptomatic COVID-19 surveillance to the incidence in individuals with the self-reported incidence of COVID-19 illness only, while also investigating the performance and efficiency of a surveillance system that uses pooled testing instead of individual testing.

The study relies on volunteer participants, including veterinary students, veterinary technicians, faculty, laboratory personnel, residents, graduate students, and interns. Volunteer study participants will simply swab the inside of their nostrils and return their test to collection sites at the CVM campus twice a week for 13 weeks.

The University of Minnesota Genomics Laboratory will test pools of five individual samples and expects to turn around positive results within 24 hours. If a sample pool garners a positive result, the individual samples within that pool will each be tested to identify the infected individual. Test results from this study will be shared with the Minnesota Department of Health for contact tracing purposes to protect public health.

Read more about the study

Joining the study

The study's enrollment has reached capacity and will begin soon.

Study involvement

Upon enrollment, participants will complete an initial health-based survey and consent to their COVID status being shared with the Minnesota Department of Health and other necessary parties. They will also receive their sampling packet, which includes supplies needed for submitting nasal swab samples over the next 12.5 weeks.

Twice weekly for 12.5 consecutive weeks, participants will self collect samples by swabbing just inside their nostril. They will then deliver their samples at designated sample drop off sites at the Veterinary Medical Center, across the University of Minnesota campus, and at a few clinical rotation locations. With each sample, participants will complete a quick health-based survey and submit it with their sample. The study leaders request that participants follow all instructions and include identifying labels with their sample submissions. 

Test results will reach participants within 24 hours of sample submission. All samples will be tested at the University of Minnesota Genomics Center. If a participant tests positive, the Minnesota Department of Health will be notified and the participant will isolate for 10 days and follow all public health recommendations.

At the end of the study period, all participants will complete a final questionnaire about their involvement in the study. Doing so marks the completion of study participation.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if I test positive and must quarantine? What kind of support will the CVM provide me in completing my rotations?

If a student in their fourth year tests positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the CVM will work with them to rearrange their schedule to keep them moving forward in their program. This may include virtual rotations and directed study during the period of self-isolation. Each student has a different schedule so each may need a different solution, which may include finishing an incomplete rotation at a later time. This applies whether an individual tests positive, is exposed to a known positive, or becomes ill.

How accurate are pooled tests compared to individual tests?

First of all, it is important to understand how pooled testing will be used as a screen in this study. We plan to test the individual samples initially in pools of 5 samples. If the pooled samples are positive, we will then test the individual samples within the pool to provide individual results. Research has reported that a positive sample can be detected within pools of up to 32 samples, so we expect pooling will only cause a minimal reduction in test sensitivity.

What kind of support will the study leaders provide to help me understand how to submit my sample? 

We plan to provide study participants with a sample kit that includes tubes with stabilizer for 25 samples to be collected over 12.5 weeks, nasal swabs, bar codes linked to each person, and other supplies needed. Instructions for sampling will be provided, including a video on the study website, in addition to instructions about how to access the testing results.

What do I do if I am going to miss a sample submission, or miss one accidentally?

The stabilizer in the sampling tubes will preserve the sample, so the sample can still be submitted. However, the laboratory will test samples received only at the specified time on Monday and Thursday each week, so samples submitted late will be tested at the next testing day. It is important to record the date of sampling for your samples to allow us to keep track of the different samples by date.

What happens if I develop COVID-19 related symptoms while enrolled in this study? 

If you should develop COVID-19 illness during the study, you should contact your health care provider for testing and for your medical care. During this time, you should follow their guidance, as well as UMN and  Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. You should not come to campus during this time. After recovery from your illness, you may rejoin this study by continuing to submit samples for testing.

This study is designed to identify asymptomatic individuals for SARS-CoV-2. Testing as part of this study does not replace testing by the Minnesota Department of Health or by your healthcare provider if you become symptomatic. If you develop COVID-19–related symptoms, you should follow local public health guidelines and guidelines provided by your healthcare provider and get tested through your local healthcare provider or by the Minnesota Health Department.



  • Jan Mladonicky, Veterinary Public Health and Preventative Medicine resident, [email protected]
  • Scott Wells, professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, [email protected] 




This study is funded by the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Office for the Vice Dean of Research.