Request for Information (RFI): Inviting Comments and Suggestions on University-Based Approaches for COVID-19 Surveillance Testing to Review the Current Landscape)

Notice Number: NOT-OD-20-162

Key Dates
Release Date: August 12, 2020
Response Date: August 26, 2020

Related Announcements


Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH)


This Notice is a Request for Information (RFI) inviting information to understand the current  surveillance testing capabilities at universities, and the potential for university-based networks (including universities, colleges, community colleges, satellite campuses, or other higher education institutions) to jointly deploy existing equipment and staff to develop robust SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing for their students, faculty and staff, and possibly for other critical institutions in their local communities; share knowledge and testing infrastructure; efficiently distribute testing capacity among the institutions; and collaborate with other university-based networks to rapidly learn from protocols, approaches, and challenges, and optimize operations.

NOTE: It is important to read this entire RFI to ensure an adequate response is prepared and to have a full understanding of how your response will be utilized.


Universities and other institutions of higher education may face unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular as students from varying geographical locations return to campus, reside in more confined living quarters and shared personal spaces, and participate in activities where the evidence as to the safest practices is still being generated. Optimally implementing surveillance testing could potentially benefit a generation of students and support the restoration of normal operations of institutions seeking to deliver learning in a safe environment for students, faculty, staff, and the local community.

Under CMS guidance, non-CLIA university laboratories are able to conduct surveillance under certain conditions. For the latest guidance, policies, and information on surveillance testing, please refer to the following resources:  

The production of new testing equipment and instruments is one factor currently limiting the expansion of national testing capacity; therefore, it may be advantageous to explore leveraging existing workflow processes and equipment that already reside in research laboratory settings, such as testing platforms for PCR and next-generation sequencing. Microfluidics platforms and other innovative technologies may provide additional opportunities to expand the national testing capacity as well.

Of particular interest are validated solutions that could be widely replicated throughout the Nation. Networks that include institutions serving underserved communities, could have an especially large impact on the sectors that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The potential for university communities to access inclusive, frequent surveillance testing is significant and would provide increased support to control the spread of the virus and restore normal operations.

Request for Comments

This RFI invites input from stakeholders throughout the research community regarding the considerations for approaching surveillance testing across universities with different levels of infrastructure and resources.

Specifically, the NIH seeks comments on any or all of, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • The feasibility of carrying out such university-based network activities at scale
  • The resources (e.g., testing infrastructure and equipment and/or human and financial resources) needed to jointly develop robust surveillance testing capabilities for students, faculty and staff, and possibly for other critical institutions in their local communities
  • Novel network approaches to efficiently manage testing capacity among institutions and collaborate with other university-based networks to rapidly learn from protocols, approaches, and challenges to optimize operations
  • The types and frequency of testing, including the technologies and approaches that could be utilized
  • The use of alternative evidence-based approaches to monitoring the level of COVID-19 in the community (e.g., wastewater surveillance) and the development of methods to categorize and identify high-risk populations within a university system
  • The risks and challenges that might impact the successful establishment and operations of a learning network such as that described above
  • Proposed mitigation strategies to address the potential risks and challenges

NIH encourages organizations (e.g., university systems, relevant professional organizations) to submit a single response reflective of the views of the organization or membership as a whole.

How to Submit a Response

All comments must be submitted electronically on the submission website.

Responses must be received by 11:59:59 pm (ET) on August 26, 2020.

Responses to this RFI are voluntary and may be submitted anonymously. Please do not include any personally identifiable information or any information that you do not wish to make public. Proprietary, classified, confidential, or sensitive information should not be included in your response. The Government will use the information submitted in response to this RFI at its discretion. The Government reserves the right to use any submitted information on public websites, in reports, in summaries of the state of the science, in any possible resultant solicitation(s), grant(s), or cooperative agreement(s), or in the development of future funding opportunity announcements. This RFI is for informational and planning purposes only and is not a solicitation for applications or an obligation on the part of the Government to provide support for any ideas identified in response to it. Please note that the Government will not pay for the preparation of any information submitted or for use of that information.

We look forward to your input and hope that you will share this RFI opportunity with your colleagues.


Please direct all inquiries to: