Following the rise of more infectious and less severe COVID-19 variants, positive cases are becoming commonplace among students. As of Monday morning, there were 110 current student positives and 31 current faculty and staff positives, according to a Campus Operations and Business Continuity Update. A total of 220 students have tested positive since arriving on campus, representing 10.3 percent of the 2,137 students currently on campus. To maintain an enjoyable college experience while keeping the community safe, the College should increase the availability of PCR and rapid testing, and it should require a second booster shot.
The College’s rationale for switching from widespread PCR testing to rapid tests is sound — the highly transmissible nature of the new variants makes the multi-day result turnaround on PCRs cumbersome. However, eliminating PCR tests entirely leaves gaps for certain groups of students, such as students with plans to travel internationally, who benefit from their concrete documentation and higher level of accuracy. Furthermore, rapid antigen tests have a lower sensitivity and lower positive predictive value (PPV) than PCR tests, which is of particular concern to asymptomatic close contacts. (PPV measures the probability that a person who tests positive has actually contracted COVID.)
PCR tests ought to be available on campus — and in the meantime, the College should give students guidance as to where to acquire them. Because PCR tests have higher accuracy rates, they may give some students greater peace of mind. Students already rely on the Thompson Health Center for common healthcare needs — including tests for strep throat, the flu, and other common illnesses. Even without a surveillance testing model, access to reliable PCR testing will help students travel and participate in classes safely.
In addition to PCR testing, the College should provide further guidance on the use and availability of rapid tests. Rapid tests should be widely available on weekends and at night so that students can monitor any possible symptoms as soon as they begin feeling sick. Having rapid tests consistently available throughout the week will also discourage students from keeping multiple tests at once, which limits supplies for other students who may need them. Given that rapid tests are relatively inexpensive and abundant, the College should be prepared for students to test more often than once a week. The College should also share guidelines for proper rapid test use and interpretation to prevent confusion. Centralized information on how to handle rapid testing and more available tests would create a more accurate case count and less transmission.
We appreciate that the College intends to host an on-campus vaccine clinic in late October, but we also recommend that it require the Omicron-specific booster as it did the original vaccine and the first booster. We acknowledge that many community members would likely get the booster even without a requirement. However, during the busy school year and a time in which COVID has become part of our everyday lives, such a requirement will motivate community members to get vaccinated, rather than let it fall by the wayside.
We understand that the College’s policies must adapt each semester as public health conditions change. With substantial case numbers on campus now, we ask that the College make rapid tests and PCR tests more accessible this fall, as well as require boosters to protect our community.
Editorials represent the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board.