LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico State University announced Friday that they will begin large-scale COVID-19 testing as part of a new random sample study in order to understand the prevalence the virus has on campus when students and employees return for the fall semester.

According to a news release from the university, NMSU leaders will use the study’s real-time data to help make decisions for resuming on-campus academic and business operations. NMSU says starting next month, researchers will test up to 250 randomly selected students and employees on the Las Cruces campus for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. They also say the study is a collaboration with TriCore Reference Laboratories, which recently established a branch lab at NMSU.

“This study has two functions,” said assistant professor of applied statistics Christopher Sroka, who is also a part of the research group. “The primary objective is to understand the prevalence of people in the NMSU community who are infected with COVID-19 but do not show symptoms and limit their exposure in the campus community. The second is to provide real-time data to university leaders, so they have a sense of conditions on campus.”

Sroka said, to coordinate the random selection of study participants, the research team has identified groups of people with different risks. The groups include students or employees commuting from out of state; students living in on-campus in dorms and sorority or fraternity houses; students who live in shared spaces off-campus; and employees who reside in Las Cruces.

“We’ll then take a random sample from those groups,” Sroka said. “Within each of those categories, you have a completely random chance of being selected for a test. By conducting a random selection, rather than having people self-select themselves for testing, this should give us a better representation of the campus community.”

Sroka said the testing is voluntary but encouraging people to participate. Sroka also said testing turnaround time is quick because they do not have to send the test to a different location. NMSU will notify the New Mexico Department of Health when people test positive, Sroka said, and health officials will start contact tracing.

“If our week-to-week numbers show the percentage of people who are infected is stable and lower than the surrounding community,” Sroka said, “that will give the campus community some assurance that our campus is a safe place to be, and we can continue to conduct classes the way we’re doing.”