Earlier this month the University announced that community members will need to get tested for the coronavirus every 15 days instead of once per month. Students who do not get tests in time will have their access restricted to some buildings and facilities – but a shortage of testing appointments left students waiting days to schedule an appointment or get results back. The University finally added testing appointments at the Foggy Bottom Campus – a change that was absolutely necessary – but the University should have been prepared to conduct more tests before announcing the new twice-monthly testing policy.
Frustration with testing delays was widespread, with students finding themselves unable to book an appointment for a week even when faced with serious situations like roommates showing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Some students with symptoms bought their own take-home tests at CVS Pharmacy, which can cost up to $125, because no tests were available. That is an absolutely unreasonable amount of money for students to have to spend because the University could not do its job. Some who did not decide to buy their own test had to wait five to six days to be able to find an available slot at the Foggy Bottom testing center.
Now, after a week of chaos, the University is expanding the number of asymptomatic testing appointments to 2,600 per day. With this new expansion in capacity, the facility can accommodate 75 people every 15 minutes. Officials are also adding a standby line for asymptomatic tests, where students can walk in and get tested on a first-come, first-served basis. The University is also accepting external PCR coronavirus tests, as long as they’re legitimate, and planning on increasing the availability of symptomatic tests at the Colonial Health Center, possibly expanding to operate on the weekends.
But the burden of managing these expanded asymptomatic tests is mainly on one testing center, the medical trailer in Lot 3. The University offers four testing centers but because 75 percent of undergraduate students live on campus, the medical trailer in Lot 3 and the Colonial Health Center are the main accessible testing centers for students and faculty members. Even so, the CHC only offers tests to symptomatic students and faculty, leaving the medical trailer to be the only available testing center for students without symptoms on Foggy Bottom.
The University should consider options like expanding testing centers to local medical centers in addition to accepting external PCR tests. Administrators should also explore ways of reimbursing those students who had to pay for their own coronavirus tests, because having to foot the bill for a test that costs up to $125 because of poor logistical planning by GW is unacceptable. Officials should cooperate with local hospitals to distribute a reasonable number of appointments at each testing center so students can not only can get tested, but also receive results back on time. The University should also consider granting conditional late exemptions for students whose appointment schedule collides with class time.
Students should also do their part and not ditch their appointments. No-shows are reported to be more than 100 per day – those are spaces that could have been filled by someone who needs a test. Students can cooperate with the University and medical staff by minimizing no-shows and following coronavirus safety protocols. With the expected increase in appointment availability in the CHC, symptomatic students must immediately get tested by booking with the students with coronavirus symptoms option.
The University is not experiencing a coronavirus crisis, but it does have a fair few cases – which is somewhat concerning. Although the cases have been decreasing since their peak on Sept. 8, with 45 positive cases on one day, cases have generally been ticking up since August. The University should have foreseen a need for more testing and built up the testing capacity accordingly before sending students scrambling. Now that the University has belatedly expanded testing, it needs to consider further steps like affiliating with non-GW testing centers or granting conditional exceptions. The last thing we want is another lockdown and return to virtual classes – and an outbreak that would send us back to that status could be exacerbated by students not being able to get tested if they have been exposed to the coronavirus. The University made a mistake and has taken the first steps to fix it. To prevent outbreaks on campus and a return to virtual instruction, it’s imperative that officials take every measure possible to ensure community members have adequate testing.
Yeji Chung, a junior majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.