Students and faculty are taking the newest update to UTA’s COVID-19 testing policy in stride, though there are questions about how the policy works and how transparent the university will be with collected data.
The new policy, detailed in a Sept. 8 email, announced UTA will randomly select 20% of the campus population every week to receive a mandatory COVID-19 test. Once notified, selected individuals will have seven days to get tested and deliver results to the university, regardless of vaccination status.
Individuals who receive their tests at one of the two on-campus testing sites can do so for free, and the results will automatically be reported to the university. Those who take the test at an off-campus location will need to upload their results to the COVID-19 Self Report portal in MyMav. The cost will not be reimbursed by the university, according to the email.
Other UT System institutions such as UT-Austin and UT-Dallas have COVID-19 policies similar to what UTA has enforced.
UT-Dallas had mandatory testing in place for the first three weeks and is extending its reduced class capacity until Sept. 24. UT-Austin’s will have reduced class capacity until Sept. 17 and is recommending testing, masking and vaccinations.
Jacqueline Fay, UTA Faculty Senate chairperson, said the randomized tests will allow the university to produce a large amount of data to guide faculty decisions. University officials wouldn’t have an accurate idea of COVID-19 trends without testing a sizable portion of the campus population, she said.
“It’s the most effective tool we have short of testing absolutely everybody every week,” Fay said. “Which we just can’t do because we don’t have the testing capacity.”
Bill Carroll, computer science and engineering professor and former Faculty Senate chairperson, said he likes the new policy but wants to wait and see how the data gathered from the tests will be used. But he said he does not feel anymore safe on campus.
“The only thing that would make me feel. safer would be if you could mandate masks and vaccinations,” he said.
Carroll said he and some of his colleagues harbor some skepticism about the efficacy of the randomized testing. He said he is concerned about how the university will use and share the data. It’s important to have a clearly communicated plan for what the university will do if the positivity rate increases, he said.
“They need to make everything very transparent,” Carroll said. “Because being secretive about things makes people distrust, you know, the process.”
Fay said one of the Faculty Senate’s goals is to make the testing data more readily available for the public.
Nursing sophomore Sydney Stumpf said she believes the randomized tests are necessary to keep UTA’s COVID-19 positivity rate low. One of her roommates recently received what she believed to be a false positive result, and she said this makes her wonder how random the tests will be.
“We’re kind of interested to see if they pick all three of us in the room since we did have a technical exposure to COVID,” she said.
Pranesh Aswath, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said the Office of Information Technology developed software to select the campus population for the randomized tests.
Lisa Nagy, vice president for Student Affairs, said campus community members can expect to be selected every four or five weeks.
Nursing junior Sarah Esayas said she thinks the new policy is a good idea but would prefer if vaccines were made mandatory instead. She said she is unsure of how the new policy will be enforced and what the consequences are for those who fail to submit their results on time.
Nagy said students who do not comply with the testing will be placed on a list of noncompliance and receive multiple reminders to get tested. The mandatory tests are not designed to be punitive, she said.
“At this point in time, we’re hoping that really everybody chooses to participate because it’s for the safety of our campus community,” Nagy said.
Public health senior Victoria Rodriguez is one of many students who have already been selected for testing. Rodriguez said she doesn’t mind getting tested as she’s used to being tested at her job at Methodist Charlton Medical Center.
She said she still doesn’t feel comfortable on campus because people gather in large groups and not everyone wears a mask. The transition back to in-person classes also concerns Rodriguez. She said herself and other public health students work around COVID-19 patients at the hospital, some of whom refuse to wear masks.
She said she would prefer to take online courses, but she is taking three in-person courses this semester.
“I can be asymptomatic, but I can still put someone in danger,” Rodriguez said. “And I think that’s where the concern comes more. When I go to campus, it’s not me getting affected, it’s me affecting those around me.”
Fay said many of the faculty she’s interacted with are still stressed about the effects of the virus on the fall semester. The information gained from the new testing program may empower faculty to be more informed about the COVID-19 situation on campus.
“In an absence of information, of course, you don’t know exactly how stressed you should be,” she said.