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Select Penn State students were notified this week via email they needed to take a mandatory coronavirus test prior to returning to campus, which led to mixed reactions.

Those selected to be tested either live in a coronavirus “hot spot," in an area with high or rising virus rates, or they have a front-line role in welcoming students back to campus.

The test kits are shipped in the mail to the student once an address is provided, and the student must wait to open the kit on a telehealth visit with Vault Health, Penn State’s testing provider.

Lindsey Zimmerman, a resident of Cocoa Beach, Florida, was one of the students selected for pre-arrival coronavirus testing.

Zimmerman (senior-nuclear engineering) said she was expecting to receive an email because she knows Florida is considered a “hot spot." She also said she wishes the university would have provided more detailed instructions.

“I thought that the way they emailed us was kind of confusing with their instructions,” Zimmerman said. “I’m really nervous to mess it up and not be able to go back.”

She explained that students cannot open the package until they are on the Zoom call with Vault Health.

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“[The test] would have been void if I hadn’t read that small print [in the email],” Zimmerman said. “They probably tried to make the email simple, but the way it reads to an average student, I feel is not simple.”

She explained another confusing part of the email was a portion that described what students should do after the test results are received as positive, negative or inconclusive.

“I didn’t know it was possible to be inconclusive,” Zimmerman said. “If they’re testing so many people in a short amount of time, the ‘inconclusive’ might be more prevalent.”

Another aspect of the pre-arrival testing process that Zimmerman questioned was the cost. Each saliva-administered test costs $150 per student, an expense fully covered by the university.

“I think the drive up testing, which is free, might have been a smarter plan... rather than spend $150 per student,” Zimmerman said. “[That money] could’ve been used on another safety precaution going back to school.”

Zimmerman also pointed out that the test requires students to forfeit their confidentiality rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Kristen Byrne, who is from the Poconos region of Pennsylvania, received an email for a mandatory coronavirus test not because she lives in a “hot spot," but because she is a residence assistant at Penn State.

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Byrne (senior-drawing and painting) agrees that government testing is simpler than Penn State’s testing process.

When requesting her pre-arrival test kit online, she ran into trouble with her address.

“I’m currently away from my home and I didn’t know it would be overnight shipped,” Byrne said. “I’m now risking returning back to campus because I”m not returning home until Saturday.”

Byrne emphasized that students read the fine print of the email and follow the directions in order to not miss move-in dates.

“The link itself was pretty much straightforward, but it lacks a lot of key info that causes people to really mess up the test if you’re not reading the fine print,” Byrne said. “I’m not sure if Penn State is willing to pay for a second test if you were to open it early.”

She said while she is excited to return to campus and appreciates the steps Penn State is taking to ensure safety, she thinks the university could do even more when compared to other universities’ plans.

“The way that they’re approaching testing could be maximized,” Byrne said. “Penn State is testing daily [when we return to campus], but it’s randomized. It could be weeks or months [before I’m tested] and I could be asymptomatic and be spreading it.”

Vincent Mariani, on the other hand, believes the randomized pre-arrival testing is a “good idea."

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Mariani, from Bucks County, was surprised he was selected to be tested.

“I’m honestly a little refreshed to see that we are taking it seriously with the random testing once we get [to campus],” Mariani (sophomore-political science) said. “It’s a decently strong stance coming from Penn State.”

Mariani spoke about the timeline, specifically the “really big gap” in between collecting the saliva sample and returning to campus.

“There’s a pretty decent hole in that strategy,” Mariani said, “but I don’t think it was one that could’ve been plugged really easily either.”

All results from the mandatory coronavirus saliva tests must be received by the university prior to students’ return to campus.

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