Lack of on-campus gateway testing option presents a potential health risk

By Grace Hogsten

Elm Staff Writer

Over the past few semesters following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington College required students to test negative for COVID-19 at the on-campus testing center before moving in.

However, before the start of the spring 2023 semester, the College told students that the testing center would be closed during move-in and instructed them to test themselves before heading to campus.

According to a campus-wide email from the WC Response Team on Jan. 18, the College instructed students to “complete a rapid antigen COVID test within 24 hours prior to your arrival on campus or prior to moving back in.”

This policy places more responsibility on students to administer their own rapid tests before moving in. It also requires them to procure their own tests. Without on-campus testing, some students may forget to test or simply choose not to.

WC did not require gateway testing after spring break in 2022, and the college experienced a surge of cases in the following weeks. Given this information, the choice not to provide on-campus gateway testing is a risky one.

According to a COVID-19 update email released by the college on April 1, 2022, there were “19 positive cases among students.” As a result, WC reinstated its indoor mask mandate.

Thankfully, though, the students’ return has not brought the same result this semester as it did last spring break.

“We are up to 11 positive cases…most of them tested prior to returning and were able to isolate at home and not come to campus. We currently have three who tested positive after arrival and are in isolation in Talbot House,” Director of Health Services Lisa Marx said.

Marx shared the thought process behind the school’s recent approach.

“We are moving more toward individuals taking personal responsibility for testing and…reporting results and symptoms. We felt it was the right time to take a step back from mandated tests and start to move toward a community responsibility model,” Marx said.

Students should take action to keep their community safe because COVID-19 still poses a threat to many and barely any safety restrictions are still in place. Students should have tested themselves for COVID-19 before returning to campus, whether it was required or not.

Though required gateway testing is the most effective option, it uses a lot of time and resources, and thus may not be sustainable long-term if the college is not willing to continue allocating those resources.

However, even if the College decides not to require on-campus testing, it should still provide a testing option on move-in day for those who have trouble getting a test or simply prefer to get tested on campus.

Throughout the pandemic, many institutions such as WC have provided extra health resources relating to COVID-19, which sets an excellent precedent. Hopefully, institutions will remember this experience and continue to provide more resources to keep their communities safe.

Even though the feeling of panic sparked in March of 2020 is fading for many, community members still need assistance, whether in terms of COVID-19 or other health issues. Communities and institutions should continue providing resources and doing what they can to protect the community.

            Looking to the future, it is uncertain what policies regarding gateway testing will be in place at the beginning of the next semester.

“Gateway testing can be an important tool to prevent campus-wide spread early in the semester. It will be discussed for Fall [2023], but no decisions have been made yet,” Marx said.

WC’s testing center is an excellent resource that helps students and keeps the campus healthy, so opening it over move-in weekend, even if its services are optional, would be beneficial to students.

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