Why COVID-19 testing remains crucial

Craig Efrati, Staff Writer

Union College students are now in week four of our Spring Term, and both wearing masks and getting weekly testing for COVID-19 are optional for students and staff. While masking may reduce the risk of COVID-19 significantly, testing also helps to ensure we are all safe and protected from the virus. Masking is an effective day-to-day form of protection, and changing our school environment from mask-optional to a mask-supportive, as our peer school Skidmore has already done, would surely allow individuals to make choices they can feel confident in. This would entail the school allowing professors to request that certain spaces require mask-wearing, which I outlined in last week’s article, “Union College professors want support in their decisions on mask-wearing.”

In addition, the school’s move to only require testing for the first two weeks of the term also has significant consequences. It’s a very short amount of time for the school to get an adequate measure of the virus’s presence on campus and the threat level it poses to our community. In addition, the new testing center hours are even more limited than before: from 10AM to 2PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as per recent COVID-19 update emails. This time frame significantly limits those who still wish to get tested weekly. 

While I do not think that testing should be required given the data of the first two weeks of the term, I do believe that it is the responsibility of every student and faculty member to make decisions that are best for them. I think that with increased testing availability coupled with a more mask-supportive environment, people would be able to make the decisions that are best for them and best suited to their individual needs. Furthermore, the accessibility of more testing time would allow the immunocompromised and elderly to have more chances to test more frequently and identify when they have the virus. 

The test results from weeks 1 and 2 of Spring term reveal that in the first week of the term, there were 10 total positive cases on campus, and 19 total positive cases in the second week of Spring term. This compares to 22 and 37 positive cases seen in the midst of the Omicron variant after winter break, on January 10th and 11th, 2022, respectively. It is clear that while the number of new positive cases on campus has gone down since the peak of the pandemic on campus, we are still experiencing a number of positive cases. As a result, more testing center hours for those who wish to test, and a mask-supportive policy would help curb the spread of the virus on campus. It is crucial that all of us continue to take steps to help to mitigate the spread of the virus as we battle ongoing surges and variants on campus.