Voluntary COVID-19 testing for students will be offered on Monday, Nov. 13 by the Alfred University Wellness Center for students who wish to get tested before they go home for break. Getting a COVID-19 test at AU wasn’t always so easy.
Until now, random mandatory testing was the only testing done on-campus for asymptomatic students. This semester, the AU Wellness Center was not testing asymptomatic students and those who felt they had been missed during contact tracing.
Currently, the protocol for when an AU student tests positive for COVID-19 is for that student to let the Wellness Center know who they’ve come in contact with.
“Anyone who has been in contact with them [someone who has tested positive] within the last 48 hours are put in quarantine. For any individual who tests positive, we do the contact tracing with the government and we identify all those individuals who have been in close contact with for over ten minutes within 6 feet,” said Director of the Wellness Center Del Rey Honeycutt.
This approach relies heavily on the honor code, the Wellness Center trusts the positive student to be transparent about who they have come in contact with, putting those on that list in isolation.
“We have to go based off what the person is telling us, and we have to trust that they’re being honest with all the individuals who they’ve had close contact with,” says Honeycutt.
However, this contact tracing isn’t very thorough, according to AU art and design senior Julia Lauer. Students who know they have been in close contact with students who tested positive but have not been contacted by the Wellness Center are growing increasingly worried about the biggest flaw in the method of contact tracing: that positive students are forgetting to mention people they’ve come in contact with.
Lauer was contacted by someone she had been in close contact with, letting her know that they had tested positive for COVID-19. Lauer was not contacted by the Wellness Center, so she decided to take things into her own hands. She placed herself in precautionary isolation, and contacted the Wellness Center, alerting them about her case and letting them know that she might be asymptomatic. According to Lauer, the Wellness Center told her to take the Hornell Area Transit bus to the nearest hospital which, in Lauer’s opinion, might not be a very safe option nor one she was comfortable with.
According the Honeycutt, however, “We have also had many people call and ask, ‘I think I might be someone who should be in quarantine,’ we ask them for specific information, you know; who was it that they were in close contact with? What they were doing? When it was? We go through those steps to identify why somebody believes that they might be somebody who was missed. There’s no body so far, that we’re aware of, that we’ve missed through the contact tracing.”
Another art and design senior student, who asked to remain anonymous, had a similar experience to Lauer’s. This student had been intimate with a student who tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after. They were not, however, contacted by the Wellness Center. After days of contacting the Wellness Center about potential exposure to Covid-19 and being denied a test because of a lack of symptoms, they decided to simply lie on the daily screening and report a number of symptoms, which finally led them to receive a test.
Having a few COVID-19 symptoms doesn’t guarantee getting a Covid-19 test either. The Wellness Center uses a COVID-19 symptom formula to predict the likelihood of the presence of COVID-19.
“We only test people who are symptomatic. The reason for that is the testing that we have here is an antigen test and it’s not recommended for testing asymptomatic individuals. So individuals who want to be tested, they have to have symptoms, and we use a formula that was established through the medical community to provide us guidance on who should be tested and who doesn’t need to be tested based on the symptoms they’re presenting with. So, students can be tested but, again, they need to be evaluated by the nurse or nurse practitioner first in order to have the test because, again, they have to fit the criteria for the specific test that we have here,” says Honeycutt.
Lauer is not unreasonably concerned by the Wellness Center’s decision to deny testing to asymptomatic students. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic. If these statistics are accurate, that would mean that the majority of COVID-19 cases would be denied a COVID-19 test by the AU Wellness Center. Alfred, it’s one thing to comply with State and County regulations, it’s another to be ethical in doing so.
By Talulla Torthe