Joint MUSC/Clemson class maps out site selection for testing

October 07, 2020
a woman completely covered in blue gown, double gloves, hair bonnet, mask and face shield handles places a testing specimen in a plastic bag
Tyesha Hinson, RN, with KH Nursing Services administers a COVID-19 test at a walk-up site administered by MUSC Health on the College of Charleston campus in September. Photo by Sarah Pack

After MUSC Health deployed the first-in-the-nation “drive-thru” COVID-19 testing site in conjunction with telehealth screening and then worked with partners at Clemson University to document that process so others could copy it, the people behind that process began to think about what should happen next. 

The obvious answer, especially for low-income communities where people might not have vehicles but are more vulnerable to the virus, was walk-up sites.

To drill down into the details of how to select the best locations for walk-up and drive-thru testing sites, professors at MUSC and Clemson decided to create an interuniversity, interprofessional course that would draw together students on multiple career paths to work as a team to develop this innovative model.

The class’s goal is to produce a website that outlines this model for determining the locations and timing of the walk-up and drive-thru testing sites.

“They're working on a real project that could actually be of use to our community,” said Dusti Annan-Coultas, Ed.D., associate professor and director of operations for the Office of Interprofessional Initiatives at MUSC. She’s working with Anjali Joseph, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing at Clemson University, Sahar Mihandoust, Ph.D, research assistant professor also with the Center, and Patricia Carbajales-Dale, executive director of the Center for Geospatial Technologies at Clemson.

Although the students’ focus is South Carolina, and they’re using health statistics and geographic information from the Palmetto state, the template they’re creating could be used in other states.

“I do think it has applications, irrespective of which state it’s in,” Joseph said.

Whereas Annan-Coultas' students are studying public health, dentistry and biomedical research, the students in the two sections at Clemson are studying either health care architecture or public health and geographic information systems, or GIS. Joseph said her students are a mixture of master’s and doctoral students, including one from the Military Health System who will return to duty upon completion of his degree.

head shot of Austin Thomas in graduation robe 
Austin Thomas. Photo provided .

The mix of academic backgrounds has been the most rewarding part of the class so far, said Austin Thomas, an MUSC student in the Master of Public Health program on the health behavior and health promotion track.

“Coming from undergrad, I was a public health major, and most everyone I worked with on group projects were also public health majors, so we all had very similar skill sets, very similar trains of thought,” he said.

Now, he said, he’s working with students from entirely different disciplines. Even a fellow Master of Public Health student brings a different perspective, as he is on the biostatistics track, Thomas said.

“Getting to work with different people from different disciplines is new to me, but rewarding,” he said.

Each section is tackling the details within their professional purview. MUSC students are developing a checklist of health risk factors, including social determinants of health and specific conditions that have been found to lead to more severe outcomes.

a wide view of a large canopy set up on a closed off street with A-frame sidewalk signs announcing testing site and face coverings required 
MUSC Health partnered with the College of Charleston to hold a walk-up testing site on campus for students, staff and faculty. Photo by Sarah Pack

Thomas, for example, is combing through reports from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to look at rates of hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease in different parts of the state. He learned that the number of South Carolinians on dialysis has increased 15% in the last five years – an alarming figure when combined with the warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people with chronic kidney disease are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Clemson students, meanwhile, are looking at what makes for a good testing site. Organizers need to factor in location – is it accessible to the people who need it – but also basic criteria like: Is there electricity available? Can it accommodate the anticipated traffic? Who are the neighbors? What are the differences between successful rural and suburban sites?

Each week, the class has a guest speaker, via Zoom, who is an expert on some aspect of the problem. For example, in the first week, Michael Schmidt, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at MUSC, presented an overview of COVID-19.

Joseph said the class has developed a list of a few dozen criteria and has sent a survey to experts in the field, asking them to rank the criteria. From this feedback, the students will build the model, which will be publicly available.

“It's a really good collaborative effort,” Thomas said.