Some Ithaca College students have mixed feelings about the college reimplementing COVID-19 surveillance testing for vaccinated members of the campus community starting Sept. 13.
In a Sept. 3 announcement to the Ithaca College community, the college stated that the surveillance testing will be conducted by selecting a group of vaccinated students, faculty and staff by random every Monday. Students, faculty and staff will be sent an email Monday morning if they are selected for surveillance testing that week. Faculty and staff who are working remotely are exempt from random testing. Unvaccinated campus community members are still required to be tested once per week.
Tests can be dropped off in the Athletics and Events Center lobby, the Campus Center lobby or the Peggy Ryan Williams Center lobby. Employees can also drop tests off on Farm Pond Road. Tests will be picked up Monday, Wednesday and Friday and individuals being tested only have to submit a test once during the week they are selected.
The college will be using saliva self-collection tests through Cayuga Health System, like the spring semester. However, there is no second tube of preservation solution. Students, faculty and staff cannot eat, drink, chew gum or smoke for 30 minutes prior to taking the test.
Tompkins County has been seeing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases over the past week due to the delta variant. The county reported 38 new positive cases Sept. 3 for a total of 439 active cases, which is the most active cases the county has seen since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Ithaca College currently has 16 active cases — 10 are residential students and six are off-campus students. There are also five active staff cases.
The email also thanked students for prioritizing public health over the first two weeks of the fall semester and urged students to continue to be safe during the three-day Labor Day weekend.
“Maintaining good public health practices including proper use of face coverings, physical distancing, good hand hygiene and responsible behaviors, both on and off campus, continue to be vital ways to preserve the collective health of our campus community from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the email said.
Junior Leo Amaral said he was at home in Brazil for the 2020–21 academic year, and Fall 2021 is his first semester back on campus during the pandemic. He said he was looking forward to returning to campus, but the delta variant has made him more nervous being here. He said that while he is happy the college is reimplementing testing, he wished testing started before Sept. 13.
“I know it takes a while to implement that kind of stuff but it does feel like we should be doing it sooner,” he said.
Amaral said students who are asymptomatic and are waiting for test results might still go to class or see friends, meaning they could potentially be spreading the virus unintentionally. He said test results need to come fast to prevent potential further spread.
“Slowly I realized that things aren’t normal like they seem to be,” he said. “The virus is still very much doing stuff. I know that they’re [Ithaca College] trying to do their best, but sometimes it seems like it’s not enough.”
He said that having testing again will be helpful to the campus community, but there is still room for people to spread COVID-19 to many people because not all students will be tested every week.
“I do think we should be doing as much as possible to ensure that students’ semester can go as smoothly as possible and as safely as possible. Even if that means something a bit more inconvenient or a bit more expensive,” Amaral said.
Junior Emma Johansen said she also did not think the college was handling the pandemic the right way. She said she is glad that the college required students to be vaccinated to return to campus, however, not testing students initially made her uneasy.
“I was a little disappointed that Ithaca wasn’t testing from the get-go,” she said. “Even if we had done once a week surveillance testing I think I would’ve felt a lot safer on campus.”
She said not having any testing for the past couple weeks made her worry that students were spreading COVID-19 to Ithaca locals when they went out.
“Part of what made me feel comfortable on campus last semester was the twice weekly testing,” she said. “The fact that we weren’t doing it at all and just kind of hoping the vaccine would do its job made me very nervous.”
Johansen said that while she is happy the college has reinstated testing, she thinks it could be done better. She said random testing may not catch all students who are infected with COVID-19, allowing them to continue to spread it to other members of the campus community, even if they are asymptomatic.
“I know it’s costly, but it feels like it would be worth it to test everyone at least once a week because we are interacting with each other so much more than we were last semester,” she said. “There’s just so many people around it just feels irresponsible not to be testing everyone every week.”
Junior Alexa Spinnato said she felt like the college was expecting Fall 2021 to be a completely normal semester due to students having to be vaccinated.
“That doesn’t just make the pandemic go away,” she said. “A vaccine doesn’t stop everyone from getting the disease, it just lessens the effects.”
Spinnato said she thinks testing all students would allow the college to truly see how many cases there are and ensure student health and safety. She said that testing all students is important to not only keep the campus safe, but the wider Ithaca community safe. Spinnato also said that testing random groups of people each week does not seem like the best idea either.
“I think it’s a cheap cop-out for making the people happy,” she said. “You’re not getting a full and accurate representation of what your numbers are on campus.”