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Penn State Asking Students To Monitor Sense Of Smell To Fight COVID-19 As Classes Resume

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (CBS) -- Students are back on campus with classes resuming today at Penn State. The university will be conducting random testing for COVID-19 and has taken a number of precautions to keep the virus from spreading.

Penn State students are being asked to pay attention to their noses. Not being able to smell is a symptom of COVID-19.

One professor is planning on sending scratch-and-sniff postcards to students and there will be flower arrangements around campus. Fighting the coronavirus could be all about smelling the roses.

"Mask up or pack up" --  that is the new motto for students returning to campus at Penn State.

In addition to the standard coronavirus safety precautions, students are being advised to monitor their sense of smell.

"Smell is actually more predictive of COVID infection than any of the other symptoms," said Dr. Pamela Dalton.

Dr. Dalton is with the Monell Center in Philadelphia and says mounting research shows COVID-19 invades the body through the nose, impacting the ability to smell.

"It makes perfect sense that this could be a very early indicator of infection," she said.

Unlike with a cold or allergies, the loss of smell that comes with COVID-19 happens quickly and without congestion.

"It is interesting, it's unusual, it's probably going to advance science in ways we did not anticipate," Dr. Dalton said.

Swabbing is currently the best way to detect the virus but getting results can take a while.

Temperatures are also being used to quickly check for COVID because it can sometimes come with a fever.

"Do you think it would be more effective to administer smell tests rather than take temperatures?" CBS3's Stephanie Stahl asked.

"I think they can work and complement one another," Dr. Dalton said.

While there's no official smell test for COVID-19, experts say people can do it on their own with items that have strong scents.

"A little vanilla extract, coffee is good, peel a banana and sniff it," said Dr. Dalton.

If you do notice a sudden loss of smell, doctors say you should self-quarantine and get a COVID-19 test.

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