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Westminster’s COVID-19 testing capabilities grow as state diminishes original weekly testing requirement

Forum reporter Jack Meier receives the new rapid coronavirus test from nursing student Alexis Kofmehl in the testing area in Carleson Hall Jan. 29. Students can get a test for free from Student Health Services regardless if they have symptoms or not. (Photo Courtesy: Liz Wray)

The Utah System of Higher Education walked back on its original testing mandates for colleges — which would have required weekly testing for the coronavirus — instead releasing a new set of protocols to get students back to in-person classes.

The key components of the plan are symptomatic testing, entry testing upon return from winter break, randomized surveillance testing and close contact tracing.

The plan allows colleges and universities to reduce the number of tests they previously were mandated to perform, although some schools like The University of Utah announced its weekly COVID testing will still occur.

Westminster College is not included in this testing plan because it is a private institution with under 10,000 students. The Spring 2021 semester at Westminster will continue to see its regular testing plan, along with new improvements to the school’s testing capabilities for both students and staff.

“Westminster has expanded COVID testing capacity at Student Health Services,” said Brianna Buckley, Westminster safety director. “The clinic now has access to more testing supplies because of diligent work with community health partners. You can get a rapid test at no cost even if you don’t have symptoms. Previously, SHS could accommodate any student who requested a test because of symptoms or potential exposure.”

The college requires students to test negative before attending an in-person class. It also recommends frequent tests if the student returns to campus often.  

If a student lives in campus housing, they will be required to receive at least two more negative tests throughout the semester, which they may schedule themselves.

Westminster students Abbie Fisher, Johanna Byers, and Alex Olivé, share a booth in the Shaw Student Center Jan. 28 while wearing masks and social distancing. Students are required to wear masks at tables unless eating or drinking and must follow public safety guidelines. (Jack Meier)

One notable difference this semester is the increased speed of the COVID testing process compared to last semester. This change comes from the new use of the BINAX antigen test from Abbott.

“It doesn’t require them to wait in a room for 15 minutes,” said Bill Self, nurse practitioner. “Literally, it takes 30 seconds to swab your nose and get you out of here.”

The process allows students to leave before knowing their results, with uploaded results available through an application called NAVICA.

“The only reason the students would have to come back to us is if they’re positive,” Self said. “We would do a secondary test which was our old test. […] I like to use two separate tests so it gives us a better percentage of knowing for sure.”

With the rising demand and speed of tests at Westminster — accentuated by the encouragement to return to campus — the number of students and staff seeking COVID resources has also increased. 

“The increase in students and employees seeking COVID tests at SHS is a direct result of having more tests available and encouraging our community to be tested,” Buckley said.

With the school’s increasing capabilities, students that have already attended in-person classes have mixed emotions about the testing protocols.

“Even though they’re readily available, we don’t know that everyone is going to be taking full advantage of that privilege,” said fourth-year music studies major Alex Olivé. “Something they could do to make us feel safer would be to actually require it instead of just saying it’s available.”

Others agreed but noted the convenience of available asymptomatic testing. 

“It makes me feel better knowing that I can go get tested whenever I feel like I need to or want to,” said second-year nursing student Abbie Fisher. “We’ve kept our cases relatively low and I think they are doing a good job having people be quarantined for the correct amount of time and also with tracing back to who could’ve been exposed and getting more control over it.” 

For more information on how students, faculty and staff can receive a free COVID-19 test, please visit Westminster College’s website

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Jack is a third year communication major. He is from Portland, Oregon and he loves the outdoors. He is passionate about film and design.

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