Staff Editorial: COVID-19 is still here — we need free, no-questions-asked testing

HN Hoffmann

After a year and a half of isolation, loss and hardship, returning to Washington University this week has been an overwhelmingly emotional and joyful experience for our staff and the campus community at large. We are thrilled to see some of our favorite aspects of what used to be “normal” campus life return — in-person classes, social gatherings, student organization events and even small traditions like Tuesday Tea. 

While this return to some semblance of normalcy is exciting, we still need resources to navigate that normal. Currently, there’s a specific area in which we insist that the University is not providing sufficient resources — testing.

The COVID-19 Response website states that vaccinated students can only receive free testing from the University if they are symptomatic or have been exposed to COVID-19. Should other asymptomatic students simply want a single test, they are required to pay $50 and travel to a School of Medicine building at 1234 S. Kingshighway Boulevard, just southeast of Forest Park. 

The Student Life Editorial Board strongly recommends that the University offer all students free access to asymptomatic testing immediately. 

Mandating vaccination has allowed our community to exercise many of the freedoms that define the college experience. However, as Chancellor Andrew Martin himself wrote in his welcome email, “the notion of ‘normal’ may be something we never return to.” The pandemic is far from over, and in order to truly acknowledge that, the University needs to give students what they need to feel comfortable in a largely unrestricted environment, and that includes testing.

We are not asking for more restrictions — we’re asking for resources. Now that the vast majority of students are vaccinated in accordance with the University’s mandate, we believe that the ability to gather with friends, sit in a classroom and dine with others is vital for our mental health. However, knowing whether or not we’re carrying and possibly transmitting a potentially deadly disease to vulnerable populations in the greater St. Louis community is just as important for easing anxieties. 

We already know that students greatly appreciate increased access to testing. The University instituted no-questions-asked walk-in testing in response to “the rising number of cases on campus, the growing number of students choosing to use outside testing and students failing to report symptoms to contact tracers” back in March. Students overwhelmingly expressed to Student Life that the resource improved their mental health.

“Any time a student feels at risk, they should have the opportunity to know whether or not they are positive or negative,” then-sophomore Ruben Wagner said to Student Life in March. “I thought that that’s something we should have been doing since the beginning of the school year, so I’m glad they were finally able to get that instituted for the students.” 

While vaccination has certainly lowered the risk of illness, the concern students have felt throughout the past year and a half have not completely gone away, especially considering the potential for breakthrough cases, which legitimize vaccinated students’ desire for testing. By bringing students back to an in-person environment but not providing adequate testing resources, the University has effectively forced students to either pay $50 and travel fees to get tested off campus (which is unaffordable for many), falsely claim to have symptoms or known exposure or stay unaware of their COVID-19 status, which has already created anxiety and discomfort for our Editorial Board members and peers. 

Of course, students might instead choose to get tested outside of the University to avoid the $50 fee. However, as COVID-19 continues to devastate the region, incentivizing students to seek free testing elsewhere takes away much-needed resources from the St. Louis community. If the University truly intends to be ‘in St. Louis and for St. Louis,’ it must ensure that we are doing everything we can to support the local community as it battles this virus rather than burdening it. 

Some students may have no desire for asymptomatic testing and should be able to choose what is best for them while also having the optional resource available. Testing is essential for the success, mental health and well-being of students as they continue to navigate this semester with a sense of cautious optimism.

 

Our Voice: Editorial Board

This staff editorial represents the view of the Student Life editorial board following conversations at our weekly editorial board meeting. Student Life editors who report on similar topics were not a part of these discussions.

Editor-in-chief: Matthew Friedman

Managing Editors: Jayla Butler, Isabella Neubauer

Senior Cadenza Editor: Gracie Hime

Senior Scene Editors: Olivia Poolos and Julia Robbins

Senior Sports Editor: Grady Nance

Senior Forum Editors: Reilly Brady and Jamila Dawkins, 

Multimedia Editors: Jaden Satenstein and HN Hoffmann

Social Media Editor: Sabrina Spence

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