The first week of mandatory COVID-19 testing at SUNY New Paltz brought disappointment from both students and administrators; some students felt more should be done by the school to keep them safe, while others skipped their appointments altogether.
After cases spiked on campus and around the country in March, schools were forced to finish the semester online. For the fall semester, resident students were welcomed back to campus. On Aug. 27, SUNY New Paltz announced that all students living on campus or attending in-person classes this fall would be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once during the semester.
Director of Student Health Services Dr. Richard J. Ordway Jr. emphasized that testing is important because “many students will be asymptomatic when infected and they may spread the virus. Without testing we won’t know who carries the virus.”
On-campus students are required to get tested during their assigned week, which is determined by their housing location. These tests are covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket cost from the students.
While students are able to get tested off-campus up to two weeks prior to their mandatory testing week, Dr. Ordway Jr. recommends making the appointment for on-campus testing five days before their testing week.
With just the first week of on-campus testing completed, 26 students did not show up to their scheduled appointments, according to Dr. Ordway Jr. Students are required to send their test results to the school, and may face repercussions if they are not submitted in a timely manner.
“If testing results aren’t available within five days of the mandatory testing week it may result in a student’s access to campus being restricted,” Dr. Ordway Jr. said.
The first week of testing saw 356 students tested and six active COVID-19 cases for a positive rate of 1.7% as of Sept. 3. (As of Sept. 15, the school is reporting only two active cases, for a positive rate of 0.9%.)
The school’s mandatory testing has drawn mixed reactions from students.
Joy Alfandre, a third-year psychology major, approves of the testing to keep the town’s case count in check.
“Before the college opened back up, the town only had a couple active cases in the last few weeks,” Alfandre said. “I’m very worried that cases will soon rapidly increase, and the people who live in this area will be at risk because of the college. SUNY New Paltz is not its own little bubble; there are thousands of people living in the New Paltz area that could be affected.”
However fourth-year visual arts major Jordann McKenna had a different experience when she got tested.
“[The tests are] not offered enough times or days a week and their testing capacity is way too low,” McKenna said. “It seems like a vague attempt to look like they’re doing something when they’re not.”
McKenna described her testing experience, saying the Enzo lab employees seemed “rushed” and “flustered” on the day she went and were practicing allegedly questionable safety practices, such as not wearing gloves, holding McKenna’s phone when she showed them the picture of her student ID on it and having her exit the room the same way she had entered, which meant squeezing past other students.
“The way they’re handling things is so frustrating and they clearly cannot safely have us here for the semester,” McKenna said. “I would go home but I would still have to pay for a huge portion of housing if I leave voluntarily.”
Kathryn Ortiz, a fourth-year adolescent education major, agreed that the measures put in place by the school aren’t enough.
“They should’ve required testing before coming onto campus, especially considering some students and faculty members or their families could have a condition that places them at risk,” Ortiz said. “I feel that if they required testing beforehand, we would’ve alleviated a lot of potential cases on the New Paltz campus.”
While more testing may be available in the future, Dr. Ordway Jr. said they plan to proceed with the current testing capacity and make changes after reviewing the results of each week’s test results.