Before students returned to campus for the fall semester, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign announced that all university students living on campus, faculty and staff are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. SIUE should do the same.
U of I has several on-campus testing locations, and uses saliva samples that typically yield results in about 5 hours. Any employee or student coming to the campus for any length of time must test negative no more than four days beforehand. Furthermore, on-campus tests are required for students to participate in on-campus activities, which are limited under state guidelines, and anyone who tests positive off-campus is supposed to give the Champaign Urbana Public Health District permission to notify the university.
Testing at SIUE looks much different. First of all, students, even those who are living on campus, are not required to get tested. Students who choose to get tested on campus must be asymptomatic, and cannot have been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Those who do report symptoms are referred to off campus testing locations; however, it is optional due to the self-reporting system to report a positive off-campus test to the university. SIUE test results may take up to 72 hours.
As of Sept. 4, SIUE reported 32 active cases. 19 are students, while 13 are faculty and staff. Three of those tests were administered on campus. The university has administered a total of 82 tests, and the positivity rate for on-campus testing is 3.85 percent. Unlike SIUE, U of I reports how many tests are administered each day, the number of new cases per day, and a 7-day rolling average positivity rate. As of Sept. 6, 218,357 tests have been administered, with a 7-day rolling average positivity rate of 1.43 percent. Sept. 3 yielded 14,841 test results, 88 of which were positive.
It’s tempting to look at SIUE’s low number of positive cases to ease concerns about COVID-19. However, this is unlikely an accurate measure of how many cases the campus actually has. By looking at the numbers, we can see that the vast majority of positive cases come from off-campus tests, which makes sense, because those getting tested on campus cannot have symptoms. Additionally, these are only the reported positive cases. It is possible that students are testing positive off-campus and not reporting their cases, since reporting off-campus positives is optional. That’s if they choose to get tested at all.
At first glance, U of I’s number of COVID-19 cases seems much higher than SIUE’s, until one considers the size of their student body and their lower positivity rate. For the sake of our campus community, SIUE should also require regular testing for those living on campus at the absolute bare minimum. Doing so may increase our number of reported cases, but it would be incredibly useful in limiting presymptomatic spread and quarantining those who are sick. The university’s current protocol implies that the administration cares more about appearances than about the health and safety of their students. We at The Alestle are calling on the university to change its protocol and prove us wrong.