USC contracts the COVID-19 testing company, Color, for population testing

Leading up to the fall semester, USC makes plans to routinely test students through a third-party provider

USC has launched a partnership with Color, a COVID-19 testing company, for population testing, or ‘Pop. testing’, which will allow the University to routinely test certain populations of students.

Testing through Color looks different than other testing sites. Currently, the company administers “observed testing,” where an individual swabs themself while a health care provider observes their process. However, the company received FDA approval on July 27 for individuals to “self-collect,” meaning students can get a kit, swab themselves and turn it in. USC plans to transition to “self-collected” testing through Color by the end of the month.

USC requires students to submit an initial negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus this fall. However, many counties throughout the country do not allow individuals without symptoms to get tested. Students who cannot get tested in their current area before returning to campus are permitted to have a test done through Color. These students will be allowed to move-in while waiting for their results.

“We still are really encouraging people to do it before they arrive, but we know that some people can’t get access to that and so then we have this available,” said USC Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman.

Wednesday evening, residential advisors (RAs) received an email from USC indicating that, under current county guidelines, they are not permitted to move into campus housing. The scheduled move-in date is eight days away, but USC Health is watching for approval from LA County before students are allowed to move-in. If housing is able to move forward, students living in USC housing will be required to get tested before their return and will be routinely checked for the first few weeks on campus through Color’s pop. testing.

“We’re working with a couple of our epidemiologists at Keck,” said Dr. Van Orman. “At least for the first few weeks we’re recommending weekly testing until we see the numbers, and see if we’re seeing any cases.”

Testing done through Color’s lab is separate from USC Keck’s testing efforts. Keck will continue to test only students who are experiencing symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19, whereas pop. testing is specifically for students who are selected to participate in routine testing. Invited students will receive an invitation email from, as well as reminder emails for when to get tested again. Faculty and staff who are permitted to work on campus are also eligible to get tested through Color. Invitations will be sent based on when individuals return to campus and what their activities are with plans to widen the scope of who can get tested after the first few weeks.

Color testing sites are located on both the Health Science Campus and the University Park Campus. Results for these tests are expected within 1-3 days.

“Even 48 to 72 hours is a pretty good turnaround for surveillance testing. This is one of the problems we’re having nationally with testing, if it’s more than 48 to 72 hours to get your results back, it’s really not useful,” said Dr. Van Orman.

The University will cover the costs of testing for all employees and students through health fees and mechanisms.

“We will spend several million dollars on testing this fall, and I think that’s part of the university’s commitment to keeping the community safe.”