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Contactless COVID-19 test kits provide convenience, critical virus data

ASU students cite convenience of no-appointment drop-off COVID-19 saliva tests.
March 12, 2021

No-appointment Devils’ drop-off service available at more than 30 locations across four campuses

The no-appointment Devils’ drop-off service — the latest in Arizona State University's free, saliva-based COVID-19 testing — makes it easier for Sun Devils to test regularly and provides ASU with vital virus contact-tracing details.

The new testing optionThe drive-thru testing locations will continue to operate. began in the spring 2021 semester and allows students and employees to take a test whenever fits their schedule. Regular testing is an important way to stay aware of any infections that may occur and to help reduce virus spread.

“If we can increase the participation more, we are likely to identify potential positives and then likely to increase the contract-tracing efforts in the community and stop the spread of the virus,” said Vel Murugan, an associate research professor at the ASU Biodesign Institute, where he oversees the development of diagnostic testing. As more people test regularly, Biodesign leaders have greater data for virus mitigation efforts.

ASU Biodesign created Devils’ drop-off as a frictionless testing experience — no appointment needed — and to boost access to COVID-19 testing. People now may pick up a Devils’ drop-off kit at one of over 30 locations across four Valley campuses. Users go online to register the barcodes found on the sample tube, find a private area to provide their saliva sample and then drop off their kit at a pick-up location. Staff then transport the kits to the Biodesign Institute for processing.

Signage points to a Devils dropoff COVID testing location

The Devils’ drop-off sites allow students, faculty and staff the convenience of picking up and dropping off ASU’s saliva-based COVID-19 tests at numerous locations on all four campuses in the Valley, such as the Computing Commons in Coor Hall on the Tempe campus (pictured). No appointment is needed — just grab a kit (clear bin), register the test tube online, provide a sample, then drop it off (gray bin). Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Student Trey Leveque is a fourth-year triple business major and on-campus student worker. He said that his friends previously had resisted COVID-19 testing because they didn’t have a car or couldn’t make a last-minute appointment.

“(Devils’ drop-off) kind of eliminates all of those barriers that come with getting tested, so it makes it really easy for people,” Leveque said. “It’s so amazing when I’m on campus … to be able to just go pick up a kit and drop it off at my convenience.” 

The benefits of Devils’ drop-off and quick test results make Katherine Hostal, a junior studying finance and business law, feel that more people will get tested regularly. She said her recent test processed via Devils’ drop-off came back in nearly 24 hours.

“(Devils’ drop-off) quite literally is the most effective and efficient testing that they’re probably going to have access to in the Valley,” Hostal said.

Biodesign Institute laboratory staff pivoted to integrate the new streamlined service with unique driving routes to pick up kits across all campuses.

“We’re actually able to ensure an almost faster turnaround time with Devil’s drop-off,” said Valerie Harris, a Biodesign Institute clinical laboratory manager.

While testing is necessary for virus management, ASU Biodesign researchers also select students willing to provide details about their virus exposure. As more students use Devils’ drop-off, researchers have the opportunity to obtain crucial information about the virus’s effect on the student population. 

“We measure their antibodies, their virus load, their antigen” throughout their illness and afterward, Harris said.

Murugan said this research is essential as there is still much about the virus we don’t yet know. As vaccines continue to roll out, Murugan, who himself participated in a vaccine trial, cautions Sun Devils that the virus won’t merely go away. He said that COVID-19 testing would remain a vital part of ensuring a healthy campus.

“This is not the time for us to put our guards down,” he said.  

How it works

A photo collage showing the steps involved in using a COVID saliva test kit

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News

1. Pick up a test kit at one of over 30 locations across four Valley campuses.

2. Log into or Patient Portal and select "Devils' drop-off" on the left or the drop-down menu. Enter the two barcodes on your test tube. After entering the barcodes, you have 24 hours to collect your sample and drop it off.

3. When you're ready to take the test, rinse your mouth out with water for 20-30 seconds and then spit it out. Then wait half an hour — do not eat, drink, smoke, vape or chew gum for those 30 minutes.

4. Using the straw, fill the tube with saliva till it's between the maximum and minimum fill lines, not counting bubbles.

5. Cap the tube and wipe it with the provided sanitizer wipe. Put the tube in the provided bag and seal it. 

6. Within one hour of collecting your sample, drop the sealed bag with the filled tube to one of the Devils' drop-off locations.

7. Wait for a text or email that lets you know your test results are ready. Results are usually ready within 24-48 hours.

Top photo illustration by Deanna Dent/ASU News

Editor associate , Office of Business and Finance


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'Easing' students with autism into college, career-readiness

March 12, 2021

New engineering peer mentor program helps ASU students master both the academic and social skills they need to succeed

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, more than 5 million adults in the U.S. live with the developmental disability known as autism spectrum disorder. And although 44% of them have IQ scores in the average to above average range, 31% also have some sort of intellectual disability and many have difficulty with communication and social interactions.

If you’re an engineering major, a proclivity toward braininess and systemizing is big plus. But the part about contending with learning disabilities and social skills can make college in general — a time in life when good grades and the ability to network are essential to one’s success — especially difficult.

So when Arizona State University engineering Lecturer Deana Delp noticed students with autism in her courses were struggling despite their academic abilities, she wondered what she could do to help. Then she came across an ASU News article about Advocating Sun Devils (formerly Autistics on Campus), a student group that aims to create an inclusive environment and build a supportive community for people with autism at ASU. Immediately, she reached out to the group’s faculty adviser, College of Health Solutions Clinical Professor Maria Dixon, to brainstorm.

“Though these students possessed the academic skills, they struggled in other areas that affected their ability to be successful,” Dixon said. “These students needed support with social interactions, with interactions in the classroom setting or classroom rules, with advocating for themselves with faculty with limited understanding, seeking proper accommodations and finally finding access to adequate assistance during the job search process.”

After putting their heads together, she and Delp founded the Employment Assistance and Social Engagement (EASE) peer mentoring program, a joint project between the Fulton Schools of Engineering and the College of Health Solutions geared toward assisting students with autism with the transition to college life as well as career readiness skills.

“We wanted to help with their transition from high school to college, but there’s also the issue that so many adults on the spectrum either aren't employed or are underemployed,” Delp said. According to the CDC, individuals with autism experience high rates of unemployment or under-employment. “The end goal is for students to not only graduate but find a fulfilling job.”

Right now, the program is still in the pilot stage, focusing on implementing the peer mentoring aspect and developing a curriculum specific to the needs of students with autism in engineering. Ignazio Macaluso, a chemical engineering undergraduate who is on the spectrum himself, serves as the program’s curriculum developer.

“We went through the engineering requirements for each year within the general major scheme to make a guide, and then we also looked at things like getting accustomed to large class sizes, getting accustomed to networking, getting into clubs, getting into research and then pursuing internships, which will hopefully culminate in full-time employment after graduation,” he said.

flyer promoting ASU engineering peer mentor program EASE

Clockwise from top left: ASU engineering Lecturer Deana Delp, College of Health Solutions Clinical Professor Maria Dixon, communication disorders graduate student Sarah Conger, chemical engineering undergraduate Ignazio Macaluso and engineering undergraduate Gil Ruiz.

Macaluso has personally experienced some of the difficulties associated with being on the spectrum and not getting the kind of help he needed to succeed academically.

“I never really pursued assistance after the initial assistance I got in elementary school due to frustrations with, I guess you could say, modus operandi,” he said. “They tended to diminutize us and almost treat us like children, and they disregarded our abilities. So I just wanted to be a part of EASE to lend myself to providing what I lacked, essentially.”

To better meet students with autism where they’re at, EASE has mentors whose expertise areas vary. Sarah Conger, a College of Health Solutions graduate student specializing in communication disorders, provides support for communication and behavioral growth. She has experience working with younger children at the University of Washington Autism Center and older adolescents at Tempe High School. She’s excited to get to be working with young adults now at ASU.

“I like the idea of working with a group of students that is so diverse and that has a lot to bring to society,” Conger said.

Engineering undergraduate Gil Ruiz, who has a son who is on the spectrum, provides support for academic-related questions and growth.

“I am trying to learn as much as I can from the students we’re helping, and maybe that can help me in the future with my son as well,” he said.

Due to COVID-19, the EASE program is currently offering their services via Zoom, but the team is eager to get back to in-person sessions when possible.

“If you want to become successful in your career, you have to socialize with individuals,” Ruiz said. “So we start them off here, in a safe, controlled environment where we can ease them into it. And that way they can build confidence, and by the time they graduate, it'll be like second nature to them.”

The plans for phase two of the program are to work with ASU Career and Professional Development Services on skills like interviewing, resume-building and how to speak to a manager. There are also plans to reach out to businesses in the Phoenix area that are open to neurodiversity to partner on internship opportunities.

Beyond that, Delp and Dixon see the potential to scale the EASE model beyond engineering to other STEM majors.

“There have been a lot of studies about people with autism being geared more toward the STEM fields, and we have a fairly large population of students with autism at ASU, so there’s definitely room to expand,” Delp said.

Students with autism who are registered with Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services are eligible to participate in the EASE program.

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty Images.