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UNC students experience anxiety as they await COVID-19 test results

Students enter the coronavirus testing center at UNC Campus Health on Aug. 18, 2020. As of Aug. 17, UNC has tested 954 students for COVID-19.

Campus Health has been offering COVID-19 testing since the start of the fall semester. But for some UNC students, the waiting period for test results can induce anxiety. 

Dr. Allen O’Barr, a licensed psychiatrist and director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said anxiety around COVID-19 testing can vary from person to person. 

“I think it depends on the person’s circumstances,” he said. “But if they are experiencing anxiety (due to testing), it is totally valid.”

Some students said feelings of anxiety diminished after future tests. But for students who do experience anxiety around testing, O'Barr recommended strategies centered on finding mindfulness. 

Zoe Tallmadge, a sophomore environmental studies major, said she has been tested three times for COVID-19 in the last few weeks. 

“I first got tested after coming back from a trip from Boone,” she said. “After that, I realized it was so convenient to get tested, that I might as well get tested every week as a precaution. I don’t want to lose my job, or put any of my housemates at risk.”

Tallmadge said she has had to wait three days for each of her tests to come back. During the first waiting period, she said she experienced a bit of anxiety, since she didn’t know what her results were going to be. 

“I haven’t really been nervous since then,” she said. “All of my other tests have been precautionary, so I haven’t been too worried about them.”

While waiting for her results, Tallmadge said she stayed at home. 

“Honestly, it wasn’t that different from what I usually do,” she said. “I went to class, spent a lot of time outside on my patio and just took the time to relax.” 

O’Barr said one important strategy to help students alleviate test-result anxiety is practicing mindfulness. 

“The strategies for this are the same strategies that people use for any time of uncertainty where you don’t have control,” he said. “Trying to center oneself in the present and notice the experience of being in the now — focusing on how I can experience the beauty of being with my family or being with my pets or even by myself.”

O’Barr said this strategy is a lot easier said than done, but it is a practice that each person can strive toward. 

Emma Kaeppler, a sophomore biology major, was living in Morrison Residence Hall at the start of the fall semester. When the de-densification of residence halls occurred, she said she wanted to get tested for COVID-19 before moving off campus. 

“I got my results back fairly quickly — it was less than 24 hours,” she said. “It was kind of anxiety-inducing, because I wasn’t sure what would happen if I did test positive. I had to move out of my dorm in less than a week, and testing positive could have impacted that.”

During the waiting period, she self-quarantined in her dorm room, Kaeppler said.

William Kendrick-Holmes, a sophomore psychology major, said he was tested for COVID-19 on Oct. 19. He said his test was precautionary, since he is living on campus and has not been tested recently. 

“I wasn’t too worried about it,” he said. “I got my results on (Wednesday) morning, so I had to wait two days.”

Although Kendrick-Holmes said he did not have reason to believe he was positive, he still made efforts to remain safe while waiting for the results. 

“I didn’t drastically change my routine, but I made sure to practice social distancing, and pay extra attention to CDC guidelines during this time,” he said.

O’Barr said CAPS is currently offering COVID-19 groups to support students who are struggling during this time. 

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"We are a complex and beautiful species, and we will get past COVID like we have gotten past other things," O'Barr said. "We just have to try to be as gentle and care-taking with ourselves as possible." 

CAPS offers a 24/7 hotline at (919) 966-3658.