The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Students question effectiveness of COVID testing selection

3 min read

UMW athlete COVID testing occurs in the Anderson Center. | Cara Lowengrub, The Blue & Gray Press


Staff Writer

In order to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the University implemented randomized COVID prevalence testing on every Monday and Thursday in the Anderson Center. However, this testing has faced some criticism from the student body.

UMW tests “370 [students] on Monday, 370 on Thursday,” said Dr. Debra Schleef, associate provost for Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness—the department that specializes in data analysis at UMW. “There are others who are called for testing as well, but not randomly. I have a list of all residents, and a sample of that group (278) is drawn each time using a statistical software random number generator. The list of off-campus students is split into MWF classes and TR classes, and 92 are drawn each day from the relevant list in the same fashion.” 

Although many students have been selected multiple times, every student that lives on campus has been selected at least once.

“Everyone has been called at least once,” said Schleef. “We’ve been doing 740 a week for several weeks now. It was 700 before that.” 

The total number of tests given is recorded by Elizabeth Southern, the UMW care coordinator.

“From Feb. 5 to March 15, the total number of prevalence tests is 2,617, we’ve had 7 positive results and two of those were confirmed negative after a PCR follow-up. The rest were all negative,”  said Southern. 

Because various students have been picked multiple times, even in the same week, some students have voiced concern about the effectiveness of utilizing a random pooling system.

“I have been tested three times, so really not too often, but I have been tested twice in the same week. Two of those were prevalence tests. I do think it’s a little worrying that some students are being tested over and over and some students haven’t been tested since their entrance test, but  it’s hard to know if there’s a better method. I’m not a mathematician or know anything about statistics, unfortunately,” said Cosette Veeder-Shave, a junior historic preservation major.

Other students have similar concerns.

“I was tested twice this semester, once, when we came back and again about two weeks ago. I believe that the school should consider alternative methods for COVID testing,” said Erin Rockwell, a senior historic preservation major. “It is concerning that some students are getting tested more frequently than others (sometimes multiple times a week).” 

Rockwell believes that students should be testing all students once per week or implementing a similar procedure.

“Some universities test their students at least once a week, sometimes even multiple times a week,” said Rockwell. “Doing something like this will ensure that all students would get tested equally. I also think that this helps to guarantee that the university has a way to ensure that the university is allocating its resources effectively.”

Other students believe that, while randomization is a good method, students with in-person classes should be tested more frequently than those who might only occasionally be on campus.

“My recent test was my second time overall getting selected, but I had a time conflict with my first test so I couldn’t get it. The randomized testing should be a good way to gauge the student body as a whole, but I have heard of several people getting tested numerous times which isn’t that helpful,” said Matt McNulty, a senior business administration major. “The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that there should be more of a focus on the people on campus consistently, as they have a higher potential of spreading it.” 

McNulty’s frustration with the COVID tests comes from personal experience.

“Two of my roommates and I have a COVID test on Monday and two of us don’t take in-person classes,” he said. “I don’t think that they should completely avoid testing people who are on campus less. I just think they should have that higher priority for those who have in-person classes and would be interacting more with others on campus.” 

According to the COVID-19 dashboard, the number of cases at UMW has decreased since the start of the semester. As of publication, there have been 50 cumulative cases since the start of the semester, and there are currently 6 active cases. There is less than one new case every day, as the seven-day moving average of new cases per day is 0.86.

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