After receiving a text from my friend informing me that he tested positive for COVID-19, I scheduled a symptomatic test at the Colonial Health Center. The incubation period for the virus can take several days, so I decided to isolate until I received a negative test result five days after my exposure. But an email I received from the CHC stated that I was able to attend class and work, without a required quarantine period. Though I did not end up testing positive, there is a very real possibility that I could have and been attending in-person activities with the virus.
While many public health experts claim it is not necessary to quarantine due to exposure, infected individuals are still considered contagious two days before they receive a positive test result. It also took approximately 80 hours to receive my first test results, during which time I could have been spreading the virus. Though it is true that cases both in D.C. and at GW have been leveling off to pre-Omicron levels, hospitalizations for those D.C. area residents who have contracted the Omicron variant are at an all-time high. To protect the D.C. community, officials should improve either their test response turnaround time or tighten COVID-19 isolation protocols to stem the spread of the virus.
If GW is going to allow for all in-person activities to resume, they should take stronger precautions in terms of quarantine and self-isolation. It is too early to be relaxing COVID-19 protocol as those who have been exposed could have COVID-19 and pass it on to immunocompromised individuals.
Taking several days to return test results, especially to someone who has been exposed to COVID-19, is unacceptable because it leaves room for students to unknowingly be in public spaces, both on campus and off campus, while infected. To minimize the spread of this virus, officials should bolster the University’s testing apparatus to allow students to receive results within a day of testing.
Officials could also consider administering saliva-based tests – like SaliveDirect, a COVID-19 testing program created by Yale University’s School of Medicine – which delivers accurate results, most of them within 24 hours. The testing system also saves up to 75 percent of the costs by not requiring laboratory materials that are in short supply. It is currently a limited program but set to expand and could help achieve quicker, more accurate results.
Rapid saliva tests are also used by many universities, like the University of Illinois, which established a program that has sending individuals who receive a positive test are sent to quarantine within 30 minutes of receiving their results. GW could adopt a similar system by using rapid saliva COVID-19 testing that would ensure quicker results and consequently, quicker quarantine.
GW was recently approved to offer at-home COVID-19 tests. If the University moves forward with relying on at-home testing to report accurate results, there is the possibility of many false negatives. Currently, rapid at-home tests are missing almost 15 percent of positive cases, The New York Times reported. GW should ensure that these tests are as accurate as possible, which could be done if they are modeled after the saliva tests.
Morgan State University in Maryland switched to using rapid antigen testing in fall 2020 because they noticed that many students were experiencing anxiety while waiting for a prolonged period of time to get their results, according to a study conducted by the National Academies Press about COVID-19 testing strategies for colleges and universities. GW officials could use rapid antigen tests to quell students’ anxieties.
Some may argue that GW cannot afford to quarantine more students just for being exposed, but this is precisely why students should self-isolate in their rooms after exposure to decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading – it will lead to fewer hotel rooms needed for those who do test positive.
Similar to Omicron, it is possible that the United States faces another variant of COVID-19 that sweeps across the community. The number of positive COVID-19 cases is currently decreasing, but to prevent the spread of another variant and the current one, it is important that the GW change its COVID-19 protocol to be more strict.
Almost 900,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 in the United States alone. Resuming all in-person activities may be plausible, but officials have a responsibility to return test results in a more timely manner and require community members exposed to the virus to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result five days after exposure.
Riley Goodfellow, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.