The stress of online learning this spring semester at IU looks and feels similar to last fall, but now many students face yet another hurdle caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: two mitigation tests a week.
IU announced in January it would be ramping up testing for those living in congregate living such as residence halls and greek houses. The goal of increasing the number of weekly mitigation tests is to prevent any further outbreaks on campus and keep infection rates low.
Yet these testing sites are not easily accessible. Instead, IU should offer a way for students to take the test from home.
[Related: Read our COVID-19 coverage here.]
There are three ways for students to receive their mitigation test. The two indoor locations are at the IU Auditorium and Ray E. Cramer Marching Hundred Hall. For those who are at high risk for infection or feel unsafe going to an indoor testing location, there is a drive-thru mitigation testing option.
With only three testing options available for students this semester, some students may have a difficult time accessing these limited locations. Throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, some universities have offered its students at-home testing kits, such as Syracuse University, DePaul University and the University of Delaware.
“Syracuse University is making this testing option available to support those students and families who face challenges accessing testing resources in their own communities,” a university release said.
IU students with disabilities — who are at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19 — have said they feel their needs have been largely ignored.
In February, junior Daisy Luck told the Indiana Daily Student that walking to and from mitigation testing sites in this weather triggers her asthma. Additionally, testing rules such as not drinking or eating 30 minutes before the test are difficult to follow. In order to not worsen her asthma, she said it’s important to stay hydrated.
Depending on where each student’s housing is located, the two indoor testing sites may take more than 10 to 15 minutes to reach on foot. This may pose an issue for students during unpredictable weather, especially for people who do not have access to their own means of transportation.
Aaron Carroll, the director of mitigation testing for IU’s Medical Response Team, said the decision to implement two mandatory mitigation tests for students living in dorms and greek housing was to avoid the same outbreaks that took place in these areas during the first few weeks of the fall semester.
He encouraged students with difficulties accessing these tests to contact the university.
“Among the people who work in the sites, they want this to work,” Carroll said. “No one is trying to make this difficult. If people have concerns or issues, if they reach out they will be surprised at how accommodating and how much all of the people there are dedicated to making this work for everybody.”
Although there have been no on-campus surges in cases this semester, it is unclear whether or not that can be attributed to the fact students are now required to take two mitigation tests a week rather than just one, Carroll said.
“I hesitate to attribute causality when I don’t have evidence of causality,” he said. “Having said that, we have not had the surge in the second semester that we had in the first semester. We have had a much safer reentry into the second semester than we did first.”
For students who feel unsafe going to indoor testing sites but cannot select the drive-thru testing option because of a lack of transportation, a potential solution is allowing these certain students to take these tests at home. But this option is either not currently available or not readily promoted.
These students have the option of filing an exemption form for these routine mitigation tests, but this is only a temporary solution to a growing problem. They have the right to get tested and ensure they’re healthy while also taking their well being and safety into consideration.
IU should follow other universities’ lead and offer at-home testing to students who need greater accessibility.
Rama Sardar (she/her) is a freshman majoring in media with a concentration in film. She aspires to be a screenwriter and film director.