When we first arrived on campus about six weeks ago, I was genuinely impressed with Kenyon’s COVID-19 testing approach. All students and faculty were given free, self-administered tests three times during the first three weeks we were on campus, and were told that information about potential cases would be posted on the College’s COVID-19 Dashboard (updated daily).
As time has worn on and testing frequency has decreased, however, I am more anxious than ever, constantly worried about testing standards and the potential for an under-the-radar spread of the virus. Why can’t Kenyon continue to test all students weekly? It seems like an incredibly simple choice and despite the cost, it really would make all the difference.
The testing has relaxed now, about a month and a half into the semester. Instead of anticipating negative results every week, we have to wait almost a month in between tests because Kenyon’s current cycle only tests a quarter of campus each week. This leaves the potential for a student who tests negative, but later contracts the virus, to infect others for almost a month before realizing that they are positive.
Additionally, tests have been and still are self-administered, with no accessible option that allows for a medical professional to conduct the test. The reliability of the results, as a consequence, are left up to the students’ competence in self-administering tests. Each time I exit the testing space, I’ve worried whether I stuck the swab far enough up my nose, or if my unsanitized hands have contaminated my results.
Kenyon has also voiced strong confidence in its wastewater testing protocols and its distribution of daily health assessment materials, but these measures are not sufficiently reassuring.
The wastewater testing would be a comfort to the community — if the results were explained to students in an easily digestible and accessible way. To find this data was hard enough, but to analyze it was another thing completely.
As for the daily health assessments, quite honestly, Kenyon is relying too much on its students to know the difference between a COVID-19 cough and a cough from a common cold or seasonal allergies. Even if students monitor their symptoms daily, the symptoms overlap with simple diagnoses too frequently for an assessment to be worth anything. For example, the Kinsa health app supported by Kenyon immediately suggests that I stay in if I put in that I have a runny nose or a headache. If it’s difficult for an app made by doctors to make the distinction without testing, how are students supposed to know?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m incredibly proud of how the College has handled the return of students to campus. Only our resilient, creative community would be able to safely accomplish something like this.
However, if Kenyon truly wants to ease student concerns about testing positive, weekly testing is the least it could offer. Despite the high cost of it, weekly testing is a simple choice that shows us empathy and compassion.