Surveillance testing begins for rest of spring semester

By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
News Co-Editors

Washington College prepared for further COVID-19 outbreaks by implementing surveillance testing on campus.

According to an email sent by the WC Contingency Planning Group on Jan. 28, the campus began surveillance testing “for those with approved [COVID-19] vaccine exemptions” in early February, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the 2022 spring semester.

For senior Sarah Walsh, while she felt that implementing surveillance testing on campus is the “best way to prepare yourself for [the pandemic],” she also felt that the College should develop other necessary practices to prevent further spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“I feel like it’s one of the best things they can do to try [to prevent another outbreak],” Walsh said. “They can catch [the spread of COVID-19] before it becomes a problem, because that’s the thing someone could carry or not realize it until later — but then frequent testing prevents that. People would find out right away, so then they could quarantine right away.”

According to the WC COVID-19 spring 2022 guidelines, students with exemptions, and faculty, staff, or other employees of the College who do not have a filed vaccine record are required to “participate in [weekly] surveillance testing.” Each student must sign up for a time slot each week to receive a rapid antigen test at Roy Kirby, Jr. Stadium.

As with gateway testing at the beginning of the semester, any student whose rapid antigen test returns positive will be considered COVID-19 positive, which will require further action, according to the guidelines.

For students who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, this requires isolation for 10 days in appropriate housing, “regardless of the severity of symptoms.”

Recovered students are then mandated to remain masked indoors at all times for 14 days, starting from the day when they first tested positive.

In addition, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm and the Feb. 11 CPG update, there are now “revised isolation standards…which aligns the isolation period for someone who tests positive with the guidance given to the general public, regardless of vaccination status.”

“We just announced an adjustment to the isolation period that makes the process pretty much the same, regardless of vaccination status,” she said. “But with that comes the recommendation that colleges, if they can, increase surveillance testing.”

For those who tested COVID-19 positive and are showing severe symptoms — which include trouble breathing, consistent chest pain or pressure, and inability to be or stay awake, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — may have to extend their isolation period to 20 days. Further emergency medical attention may be necessary, depending on individual cases, according to the guidelines.

If unvaccinated individuals with exemptions come into close contact with someone who tested as or is considered COVID-19 positive — noted by the College as “being closer than six [feet] with the person who tested positive for more than [15] minutes” — they are then required to quarantine in appropriate housing for either seven days with a negative COVID-19 test at the end of the period or 10 days without a COVID test. Tests cannot be performed earlier than the fifth day after exposure.

According to the guidelines, exposed vaccinated students should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, avoid crowds, and self-monitor for symptoms. Any sign of developing symptoms should be directed to Health Services for further action.

Walsh noted that, while enforcing surveillance testing is a good start, she feels like more can be done to ensure others’ safety, including wiping down all surfaces in classrooms, labs, and other public areas.

“[I feel that what] I think other students are concerned about isn’t huge — just like take a minute or two…wipe down the tables and the chairs in between classes,” Walsh said. “I think people would feel more comfortable knowing that those are being cleaned frequently.”

Dr. Feyerherm said all students should prepare for possible surveillance testing upon return from spring break.

Photo by Grace Hazlehurst

Featured Photo Caption: On Jan. 28, the Washington College Contingency Planning Group announced via email that they will begin surveillance testing across campus, requiring unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated students to undergo weekly testing at Roy Kirby, Jr. Stadium (above).

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