COVID-19 Testing, Student Takes Test

A student spits into a COVID-19 test at a voluntary testing station set up at Bigler Hall on Sunday, August 23, 2020. Penn State announced the testing station would be operating after multiple large social gatherings at East Halls as well as the suspension of fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha following its own social gathering.

Over the past week, several students have anonymously shared their concerns about Penn State's coronavirus testing policies, and the Coalition of Graduate Employees shared some of them via Twitter.

Rachel, a graduate teaching assistant at University Park who requested to remain anonymous, was randomly tested for the coronavirus two weeks ago.

To her dismay, the result was positive.

“I’m a really careful person. I don’t go to bars, I don’t eat out… I stay in my house. I only went to campus to do some research, and I guess I tested positive,” she said.

After her positive test, Rachel waited at home for any guidance on what to do.

In the days after she found out she was positive she said she “didn’t get any guidance from the school. I only got an email from Vault. I didn’t know what to do,” Rachel said.

Without any official instruction, Rachel began her own contact tracing process, alerting everyone she came into contact with during the previous few weeks that she had tested positive.

When university contact tracers eventually reached out five days after her results came back, Rachel said she wasn’t confident in their efforts.

Four days after contact tracers spoke to her, she said “[I] haven’t heard anything from the people I was in contact with. Nobody’s followed up with them.”

Rachel said she was also told by a Pennsylvania Department of Health representative that everyone she had been in contact with should have been in quarantine for the past seven days, but she said “it’s been a full week since I’ve seen these people. I don’t know what their situation is.”

The delay in Penn State's response time was “frustrating” and “disappointing,” Rachel said.

“The school isn’t telling anyone to get tested, but I’ve had like eight people I’ve been in contact with that I could have infected,” she said. “It’s disappointing… they say they’re doing all these things. It’s just not true because I’m living it, I’m seeing it, and it's simply not true.”

At a Penn State commonwealth campus, Mark, an undergraduate student who works on campus and also requested to remain anonymous, said he has seen a similar lack of rigorous testing.

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“Before I arrived at [my commonwealth campus], I was randomly selected to be tested for screening. I thought it was normal for on-campus workers,” Mark said, though he hasn’t seen many other students tested.

“I thought there was going to be 1% testing per week. I believe there’s 1,700 people at my campus, and in the first week there were eight tests with six getting the results back,” he said, recalling his campus’ coronavirus dashboard figures.

Of the six tests whose results came back, all six were negative.

“Personally I haven’t known anyone who has been tested again,” Mark said.

Although his campus has remained free from the coronavirus so far, he said he assumes it is due to a lack of testing.

“I assume that being right outside of [one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities], there would be cases we don’t know about,” Mark said.

At the Brandywine campus, Mark said he feels fairly safe, but described difficulties enforcing social distancing in the dining areas as a student worker.

Mark said campus workers have no authority to correct social distancing violations, so they have to rely on managers to enforce this policy.

And when managers are on break, or otherwise indisposed, Mark said there’s no one to keep diners safely spaced out.

“If [students breaking the rules] tell us ‘no,’ we can’t make them go off campus,” he said. “If they were to say to us, ‘you can’t tell me what to do,’ we can’t enforce it.”

Mark said this problem is compounded by the fact that dining is primarily indoor, even though there are a “couple tables” available outside.

In response to these allegations, Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers gave the following statement via email.

“The University has a robust multi-tiered process in place including testing, mitigation (which includes a very detailed contact tracing process) and monitoring (on-demand and random asymptomatic),” she said.

Powers said any concerned individuals should reach out to their campus’s Office of Student Affairs or health center.

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Conner Goetz is an administration reporter for The Daily Collegian. He is a sophomore studying digital and print journalism as well as new media entrepreneurship