Spring Hill President, Dr. Joe Lee, announced last week that the college will begin implementing randomized COVID-19 testing in September.
Officials hope to encourage students to take the virus more seriously.
Vice president of student affairs Kevin Abel later announced that “Three percent of our population will be randomly selected for required participation in this testing,” and this sample population will include students, faculty and staff. The free, mandatory testing program was set to begin Wednesday, Sept. 16.
When asked how the randomized sample testing will take place, Kevin Abel responded that, “It’s part of the Guidesafe platform that the state of Alabama has afforded colleges and universities within the state. The first part of the testing platform was the entry testing, which we completed. The second part is the weekly sentinel testing which is a randomized sample of three percent” of the campus population. Abel continued that “essentially, about 43 faculty, staff, and students each week will be selected to do the sentinel testing.”
Senior Lauryn Herman said, “I think it’s a great idea especially if the school is paying for it. Considering many of our classmates are not following the CDC guidelines of wearing a mask and socially distancing, it's good that the school is choosing to randomly test. Especially since so many people our age are asymptomatic.”
Senior Olivia Sexton agrees that, “This is an acceptable step, we have not been following the rules and guidelines the school set forth in the first place.” She adds that “the school choosing people at random to be tested is largely because, as young people, we typically are not going to get physically sick. Therefore, we won’t go get tested. So it’s not that I think it is right or wrong to test people this way, but it definitely is an understandable step to be taken.”
Abel suggests that this randomized testing could especially affect students in social organizations on campus, as subgroups of students could be the main focus. These subgroups could include residence halls, athletic teams and Greek life affiliates. Abel emphasized that “students within some of those subgroups will get weighted a little heavier in the randomization calculation just because we know those small groups tend to have a higher community transmission than those who are not part of those groups. We are going to try to target those areas where there is a higher transmission typically.”
The purpose of the randomized testing is to help monitor levels of COVID-19 and identify potential outbreaks. SHC has partnered with Verily for the program, so if students participated in the school’s Re-Entry testing, they already have a Verily account and will not be required to make a new one. However, if students and faculty did not participate in the Re-Entry testing, they must set up an account at healthy.verily.com to be included. Those creating an ccount must use their SHC email address when registering.
Spring Hill’s Office of Marketing and Communication urges students to check their SHC emails regularly to see if they have been selected to be tested because, “Each week, randomly selected individuals will receive an email from Verily (firstname.lastname@example.org) directing them to sign up for a testing appointment on campus during the next seven days.” Students selected will be prompted in the email to log into their Verily accounts to request a test.
This testing is mandatory, and Spring Hill’s Office of Marketing and Communication announced: “Participation is vital to get the timely, appropriate data on COVID-19 cases at our College ... Exceptions to the testing include: If you are COVID-19 symptomatic, if you’ve had a positive COVID-19 test within the last 12 weeks (provide documentation of test result to Spring Hill College to email@example.com), anyone who is fully online or outside the reasonable distance to likely travel to campus.”
Those selected who are experiencing symptoms will be asked not to test through this program, but to contact firstname.lastname@example.org about alternative testing options.
Senior Matthew Fonseca said, “I, personally, don’t have a problem with the random testing, but if others do then I don’t think they should have to be tested. If students are forced to take these tests, then I do believe that’s an invasion of privacy; if students refuse to take the test there should be no repercussions.”
Participants will self-administer their tests on campus at Price LeBlanc Hall in the Barter Student Center where they will receive a nasal swab testing kit. The test itself takes less than a minute, and observers will be available on-site to guide participants through the process. Student Affairs will call or email participants with their results within 36 hours of testing.
President Lee’s opening remarks in the press conference indicated that while this “new normal” environment on campus may not be very new anymore, it is unfortunately the current normal that we must accept. Lee admits that this may be difficult for some students to do considering, “We cannot always predict the behavior of 18-22 year olds.” Lee also admits that even with the months of preparation the school had to make the most suitable provisions for returning students, the college’s efforts are a “work in progress” because “it changes on a daily, hourly, weekly basis, and that’s why it’s so difficult to project.”
Fourth-year student Fergus O’Rourke said that, “It is impossible for the school to regulate people's actions and movements to an extent that would entirely prevent a spread of the virus, and I think that students should be prepared to deal with the risks that come with being on campus, or stay home. I am not saying this is an easy balance to strike. I know people are doing their best in a difficult situation. But I think the administration could be more pragmatic in its approach to dealing with young adults on a college campus.”
It may take between 28 to 98 active cases before students would have to commit to virtual learning entirely. President Lee says that there are approximately 700 students living on campus this semester. Abel said that “two percent of our population is 28 [active cases] and seven percent is 98 active cases. Experts recommend that anywhere between two to seven percent is a trouble area that colleges have to look for. That’s a lot for Spring Hill and our community.”
President Lee and Kevin Abel both admit that one of the most pressing concerns the college must face is the lack of available space for students to quarantine. According to Abel, “We are getting to a point where the infrastructure needed to support that isolation and quarantine is going to be an issue in terms of trying to maintain. This week has shown just how quickly we can get there.” There were 81 students in isolation on campus as of Sep. 4.
Students can stay up to date with COVID-19 cases on Spring Hill’s COVID-19 Tracking Dashboard. Abel says the dashboard will be updated every friday and will reflect cumulative cases since Aug. 17. It will also reflect new cases each week, as well as the numbers of students in isolation, who may or may not have the virus.
Abel encourages students to take this current situation more seriously. He urges students to “sacrifice the short-term instant gratification in order to achieve that long term satisfaction. It is important that we all recognize this as a community now that things have gotten tougher this week. This is not irreversible. There is still a path forward, but it’s going to take everybody’s commitment to be able to make that happen.”
President Lee says he is “cautiously optimistic” in terms of wanting to continue having in-person classes with students living on campus. Abel agrees, stating that “We want to have a safe and healthy community this year and to be able to continue our Jesuit education on ground, and we feel it’s best delivered in that way. We want to have an engaged learning environment outside the classroom. That’s an important part of the Spring Hill experience, and I think everybody recognizes that. We want to see the class of 2021 walk down the avenue. We don't want the class of 2021 to experience the same thing the class of 2020 did.”
Last year’s graduating seniors have yet to have a physical or virtual graduation ceremony. President Lee admits the school could have held a virtual ceremony already, but he does not wish to do so because he wants students to walk down the Avenue of the Oaks, following Spring Hill’s tradition.
When questioned about how he plans to host a ceremony for this year’s class, Lee proposed that SHC follow what other schools have done. He suggests that maybe students could partake in a physical ceremony if the ceremony spans over three days with limited people and students would be limited to bringing only two guests. A date for a future graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 has not been set.