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Reflections: How OU botched pre-arrival COVID testing

Late last semester, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, and other Ohio University administrators set about the task of preparing for this semester. At that time, COVID cases had been steadily increasing due to the already hardy Delta variant, then they exploded due to Omicron’s arrival. President Hugh Sherman already established that the mask requirement would still be in effect for Spring 2022. Gillian Ice stated in an email on Nov. 16 that OU would require on-campus students to take an at-home COVID-19 test before moving in. 

The emphasis of this strategy was prevention. OU wanted to catch any infections before they were brought onto this campus, infecting students, community members and staff. These measures were issued before cases were record-breaking, before hospitals were overwhelmed and whole workplaces, like Tony’s Tavern in Athens, decided to temporarily shut down to slow the spread. 

This plan was all fine and dandy. In fact, dare I say, it made lots of sense. OU already has a high vaccination rate, and this tactic was used last spring semester, so students were familiar with it. It would protect other residents who worked to keep themselves COVID-free all winter break. And, it would keep other students and staff from facing an exposure in class during the first few days of the semester. 

Unfortunately, while the plan made sense initially, OU’s following actions did not. 

Dr. Ice asked students to allow for three days of a waiting period to ship and test the samples they would provide. Due to the influx of COVID-19 cases nationally (cases that, again, were already increasing when these measures were issued), Vault testing, the manufacturer of the at-home tests, was swamped.

Some students did not receive their results until days after they were scheduled to move in, prompting Dr. Ice, in an email Jan. 11, to “clarify that Athens campus students who did not complete their required pre-semester COVID-19 test may still attend classes and campus activities.”

What was the point of having all residential students complete COVID testing if a number of them could still potentially expose others? Sure, having some students tested is better than none. But the fact remains that there were other steps the university could have taken before letting the proverbial floodgates loose on COVID.

Could they not have made these students self-isolate until they received results? According to the emails we get whenever we test at Vault, students are already supposed to “stay home and away from others” as we await our test results. That way, those who already knew they are negative were not impacted by those who could potentially already be infected. They wouldn’t have been exposed others to COVID and potentially transmitted the virus. 

This tactic just makes more sense. Giving students more time while they currently live on campus until Jan. 12, according to Ice, provided ten more days others could be infected. 

Pre-arrival testing was and still is a great tool to control outbreaks before people even step foot in Athens. But, by providing these loopholes, COVID operations dropped the ball and basically defeated the purpose of even employing this tool.

Colleen McLafferty is a sophomore studying history at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Colleen by tweeting her at @colleenbealem.

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