McMillan: CSU should better communicate COVID-19 testing procedures

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Photo illustration of a COVID-19 testing box and a mask. (Devin Cornelius | The Collegian)

Adah McMillan, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In late January, I had cold symptoms and found out a friend I’d been hanging out with had COVID-19, so I filled out the symptom reporter and received an automated email that told me someone would contact me for additional information. 

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In the meantime, I scheduled a saliva screening for the next day. When I showed up for the screening, I was told that because I had symptoms, I had to skip the screening and go straight to the nasal swab test. But no one followed up with me on my symptom reporter, and it was impossible to schedule a nasal swab test through the Colorado State University Health Network without the public health referral I hoped to get from the saliva screening.

“My persistence was what got me my test, but some people — especially sick people — don’t have the energy or motivation to be persistent. Sick students shouldn’t have to be persistent at all to know if they have a highly contagious virus.”

No one ever did follow up with me about my symptom report, so I decided to follow up on my own and annoy the people at the CSU Public Health Office until I could get a test. Testing somewhere else, like Walgreens, wasn’t an option because I don’t have a car, and appointments are scarce everywhere. I finally got a public health referral after at least an hour of calling, waiting on hold, getting false directions, calling back, rinsing and repeating.

Once I finally scheduled and went to my appointment, I got my results in 10 minutes. Everything after that was so simple and easy, and I had meal delivery from CSU Housing & Dining Services set up by the end of the day. I was able to quarantine and limit my exposure to only my roommate and whoever I ran into in the bathroom instead of the hundreds I would have encountered trying to get my own food. 

While my quarantine was straightforward, getting tested was anything but. My persistence was what got me my test, but some people — especially sick people — don’t have the energy or motivation to be persistent. Sick students shouldn’t have to be persistent at all to know if they have a highly contagious virus.

Colleges across the country have had to adapt to life amid a pandemic for almost two years. CSU’s Pandemic Preparedness Team has worked hard to make decisions about masking, remote learning, social distancing and vaccination requirements. 

Lori Lynn, the executive director of the CSU Health Network, said the team is transitioning CSU from “a pandemic approach of managing risk with COVID to an endemic approach where it’s more common, and we live with it kind of like we live with the flu or the common cold.”

We see this transition in the recent lift of the mask mandate and the elimination of saliva screenings. However, testing is still important because we need to keep track of cases in order to protect against their increase.

CSU’s Pandemic Preparedness Team is adjusting its testing procedures to better fit a low number of cases.

“The system now is similar to the old one but a little simpler. The symptomatic are still supposed to go straight to a PCR test. The asymptomatic take antigen tests, and a negative means you’re good, and a positive means immediate official quarantine.”

With a referral from the CSU Health Network, students don’t have to pay for any test, but it is important that PCR tests aren’t overused and instead are only given to symptomatic people to limit costs. 

But the process of getting any test on campus is very confusing and difficult when the only guidance you have is a few emails. 

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There is a registration and consent form link on CSU’s antigen screening webpage, but there is no way to schedule an appointment because appointments aren’t actually necessary at all. All you need to do to get an antigen test is fill out that consent form one time and walk up to a testing pod at Moby Arena, the Lory Student Center or the South College Avenue parking lot during their hours. There are also QR codes at those testing sites to fill out the consent form if you don’t do it beforehand.

The system now is similar to the old one but a little simpler. The symptomatic are still supposed to go straight to a PCR test. The asymptomatic take antigen tests, and a negative means you’re good, and a positive means immediate official quarantine. 

I have no qualms with this process at all, but I do wish it was better communicated to students. From my experience and what I’ve heard from my other friends who got COVID-19, you have to figure it out as you go along. It would be much easier for students and improve motivation to test if they understood what was going on before they had to.

Reach Adah McMillan at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @mcadahmillan.