Elizabeth City State University will be providing free COVID-19 testing on Monday as part of a project to both stop the spread of the coronavirus and involve ECSU students in a major public health initiative.

ECSU’s COVID-19 testing project is being funded with a $1 million grant from the N.C. Policy Collaboratory in UNC-Chapel Hill. In addition to administering tests for the coronavirus, ECSU will also conduct contact tracing after positive test results and help raise awareness of safety measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The initiative’s first community outreach event will be Monday at Faith and Victory Christian Center at 1046 Horseshoe Road, Elizabeth City, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Residents across ECSU’s 21-county service area are being encouraged to attend and learn more about COVID-19 and how to get tested.

“ECSU is now able to provide a critical service to the community,” said Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, the project leader and dean of ECSU’s School of Science, Aviation, Health and Technology. “We will be providing free COVID-19 testing and assisting with contact tracing in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus.”

Using real-time polymerase chain reaction machines, ECSU will conduct preliminary diagnostic testing for COVID-19 at the church. Because PCR machines can rapidly make billions of copies of a specific DNA sample, researchers can take a very small sample and amplify it large enough so it can be studied in detail.

ECSU said the PCR machines will allow the university to produce test results as quickly as possible. ECSU faculty and staff, along with three biology graduate students, have been trained to administer the tests.

Individuals who wish to be tested for COVID-19 must complete and submit an online form to https://bit.ly/2Tb9PNP. A nurse will contact you to set up a date and time for the test. To ensure confidentiality, persons seeking a test will then receive a follow-up call with a unique reference number they will bring to their appointment.

“You have to be scheduled online and show up with the personal code from your registration,” said Dr. Anthony Emekalam, the project’s community outreach coordinator and chairman of ECSU’s Department of Health and Human Studies. “This will protect the identity of the individuals being tested.”

In addition to testing, 26 ECSU undergraduates will assist with the project’s contact tracing component. In cases where someone tests positive for COVID-19, they will follow up with people who may have been in contact with the person. Those persons will then have an opportunity to receive a COVID test.

ECSU is including both graduate and undergraduate students in the project as a way to increase learning and provide hands-on experience that can them transition to careers after graduation.

“I am excited about ECSU’s role in providing needed COVID-19 testing for our communities and education about mitigating the spread of the virus in northeastern North Carolina,” said ECSU Provost Farrah J. Ward. “These efforts align with ECSU’s strategic plan to promote and support faculty and student applied research efforts in the community.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the counties in ECSU’s service territory have been adversely affected by the spread of the coronavirus. In particular, Bertie, Halifax, and Northampton have experienced per-capita coronavirus rates higher than some urban centers. Bertie has the second highest per-capita virus case load among rural counties in the state.