On March 1, Student Development sent out an email informing students that they would no longer be regularly testing the entire student body for COVID-19.
Currently, more than half the student body is still being tested due to required NCAA athletic testing, symptomatic testing and surveillance testing as a result of wastewater samples.
“Trends across this semester related to positive results show us that the large majority of cases are found via symptomatic individuals reporting symptoms to our COVID-19 team (followed up with a test), or spotted via surveillance testing using wastewater results,” said Chief of Staff Kelly Finn, via email. “Wastewater samples are being collected three times per week and show us if there is virus shed occurring in specific dorms and fraternities. This data allows us to target specific residences for antigen testing, if necessary.”
Wastewater samples from Wesley, Mitchell Towers, Seaton and the fraternity houses are tested, but Whitehouse, on-campus apartments, annexes and off-campus housing are not, as indicated on the Together Safely dashboard.
Without the wastewater testing included in the new testing update, there is no way to find positive asymptomatic cases among non-athlete students who do not live in on-campus dormitories or fraternity houses. This could become a problem if asymptomatic cases rise on campus.
The new testing update not only creates holes in testing potentially asymptomatic students, but symptomatic students as well. Irresponsibility in symptomatic students who aren’t athletes or part of wastewater testing is entirely possible. These students might be hesitant to report their symptoms due to the stigma of COVID-19 diagnoses. Since reporting symptoms is necessary to get tested, they could go on to spread the virus to other members of the campus community.
While this hasn’t seemed to be a problem on campus so far, due to regular testing, there’s no reason to believe that this can never happen.
According to the Analysis of Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic Transmission in SARS-COV-2 Outbreak study released by the CDC, the highest number of secondary attack rates among close contacts were through presymptomatic exposure. The study also explains that while researchers observed no transmission through asymptomatic patients, it was still deemed possible.
It only takes one presymptomatic person who is not an athlete or does not live in an area that contributes to wastewater samples to contribute to an outbreak on campus. Because presymptomatic students have no reason to get tested, they will continue to go to in-person classes, not wear masks around their roommate and live as normally as the pandemic and Together Safely rules will allow them.
Last semester, the daily monitoring of symptoms was included on the community dashboard, and students were incentivized with the promise of eased restrictions if all components were in the green zone. Since the dashboard no longer accounts for this and eased restrictions are beginning to seem like a dream students will never achieve, students might not feel the need to report their lack of symptoms every day.
If students want to continue to see a low positive population rate and a possible lift in some restrictions, it’s imperative for non-athletes or those living in spaces that don’t contribute to wastewater samples to report related symptoms as soon as possible to the COVID-19 team.
Not only are non-athlete students not being tested regularly, but full population testing for faculty and staff will not be happening anymore.
Students have restrictions and are not allowed to do normal things like go into the grocery store, but faculty and staff can go home every day and go about their daily lives. By this logic, if there’s no need to regularly test those coming in and outside of the bubble, some restrictions should be lifted for students as well.
Albion was one of the only institutions in Michigan during the fall to test as much as they had. While the new testing protocols are in line with other institutions that have in-person classes, being tested on a regular schedule was the Albion Advantage.