In early January, a Presidential Perspective was sent to the Baylor student body announcing mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing for all students, staff and faculty in the Spring 2021 semester. This is the most promising mitigation effort the university has taken since the return of on-campus activities in August 2020.
The American College Health Association published official recommendations for universities returning to campuses in the Spring 2021 semester. These recommendations highly emphasize twice weekly testing for the duration of the on-campus period. The association said universities who incorporated multilayered mitigation efforts last semester were the most effective in reducing virus transmission and these practices should be continued.
The “Swiss Cheese” model Baylor follows incorporates these key recommendations such as wearing face coverings, six-foot social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation processes. Continuing this model alongside weekly testing for those involved on campus provides the most optimistic outlook for COVID-19 mitigation we have seen on Baylor’s campus up to this point.
As we move into the semester hopeful after the introduction of these additional measures, concerns remain regarding on-campus outbreaks in the coming weeks.
As students return to Baylor’s campus from hometowns world-wide, COVID-19 case numbers are reaching new heights and a more contagious strain of the virus is emerging. This raises the question of if the singular negative COVID-19 test result before returning to campus is sufficient for the collective safety of our community.
The same measures were taken before students returned for the Fall 2020 semester, and the initial spike in cases on campus was undeniable. With this current greater infection rate on a national scale, it is reasonable to anticipate an even larger initial spike than in the previous semester.
Baylor’s weekly tests will be self-administered for the Spring 2021 semester. This also raises concerns about the accuracy of the results when untrained, college-aged students are administering them to themselves.
The greatest issue we anticipate is consequences following missed testing appointments will not be followed through with.
Baylor published official consequences following failure to complete weekly testing. These include disabling WiFi, limiting involvement in campus and student organization activities and eventually sending students to Student Conduct Administration.
Following last semester where punishments did not seem to be implemented consistently, these threats won’t solve the problem unless there is consistent proof of the consequences.
If these consequences are abandoned, students will likely take advantage and ultimately jeopardize the safety of our community and the accuracy of our COVID-19 statistics as a university throughout the semester.
As the semester begins, we remain cautiously optimistic the outcome of COVID-19 mitigation on campus. With the introduction of new weekly testing in addition to previously implemented guidelines, we hope that these measures are enough to maintain a safe environment in the coming months.