Staff Editorial: COVID-19 surge: We need free testing and clearer guidelines

In the first weeks of classes, the new COVID-19 Omicron variant EG.5 has spread rapidly through the WashU community. The Habif Health and Wellness Center reported 238 cases as of Sept. 14, which includes only the positive results that students have reported to Habif.

As cases have increased, students have felt unclear about what they should do if they experience symptoms, test positive, or are exposed to someone who is positive. As students experience confusion surrounding this COVID-19 surge, they are also facing physical and mental impacts. This situation demands a more coordinated response than what the WashU administration has given thus far.

According to their isolation protocols, Habif says that if you experience any symptoms, you should get tested. However, Habif recently began charging for at-home COVID tests ($20 for two tests), which were previously free. While we firmly agree that students should test if they have symptoms, WashU should not expect students to pay $20 dollars out-of-pocket to do so. The cost of testing disincentivizes students from testing themselves for COVID-19, increasing the spread of the illness and negative health effects in the community. WashU needs to respond accordingly and reinstate free take-home COVID tests for students.

Other universities still offer students free COVID-19 rapid tests, including Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, and Yale University

In addition to free testing, the University needs to outwardly acknowledge and discuss its response to the COVID-19 surge. The increase in cases is negatively affecting many students who are exposed to COVID-19 or who test positive, as the stress of missing classes or getting sick is overwhelming. However, the administration has failed to make a public statement about these impacts or how they are advising students and faculty to handle them. 

In terms of students, WashU should send out a notice restating and reinforcing protocols for students who are experiencing symptoms, facing exposure, and testing positive. While students can review these protocols on the Habif Isolation Protocols page, they may be overwhelmed with an influx of varying information from fellow students and their professors, or be worried that testing positive will negatively affect their academics and therefore not test or go to class anyway. An email outlining clear procedures for students to follow would help streamline how students respond to sickness and decrease the onslaught of different information that people are hearing and the corresponding stress that they are feeling.

WashU has also left professors feeling unclear about how they should respond to cases in their classes, which has led to varying responses from them. While some are providing virtual or asynchronous options, others are doing little to help students catch up. An increase in communication to teachers about how to accommodate students who test positive would not only help alleviate professors’ confusion and stress surrounding a sharp increase in absences in their classes, but would also help students who may be worried that they will fall behind if they isolate themselves for the allotted five days.

Staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of our editorial board members. The editorial board operates independently of our newsroom and includes members of the junior and senior staff. 

Reilly Brady, Managing Forum Editor

Sylvie Richards, Senior Forum Editor

Amelia Raden, Junior Forum Editor

Clara Richards, Editor-in-Chief

Via Poolos, Editor-in-Chief

Cathay Poulsen, Chief of Copy

Ved Patel, Managing Chief of Copy

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