One week after UNC sophomore Mary McKay got a COVID-19 test at the Student Union, she received a text from Campus Health stating that it was time for her to get another test.
These texts are part of a new testing program by the University that recommends students get tested for COVID-19 every five to nine days.
“The continual testing reminders are intended to reinforce to students that a negative test result means that they are negative for the day tested, but this is not an assurance of continued immunity from the disease,” Ken Pittman, executive director of Campus Health, said in a statement.
Pittman said Campus Health chose text reminders based on student input that referenced texting as the easiest way to communicate.
Students like Ally Pagans, a senior nursing major who got tested this week, said the texts serve as a reminder of both the importance of testing and the ease of new testing procedures.
“I think it's definitely an effective way to keep it on the forefront of students’ heads and remind them, because obviously we just get so overwhelmed with a lot of different responsibilities,” Pagans said. “If I have the opportunity to get tested, I want to get tested.”
Students are automatically opted in to receive texts from Campus Health via ConnectCarolina, Pittman said. They should receive the reminder messages starting a week after their testing unless they have opted out, have an incorrect number listed or do not have a number listed, he said.
UNC student Brooke Spalding said the texts do not hurt as a reminder to continue getting tested. She said her house of nine girls decided to get tested every week to be safe because of the ease of new procedures at the Union.
“Saliva testing makes it less intimidating,” Spalding said. “The fact that it’s free definitely makes it accessible, the fact that they are dedicating parking spots, the fact that it takes literally like five minutes – I think all of that makes it more accessible.”
McKay said she and her roommate were not planning on testing every week because they do not have much contact with people besides each other. She added, though, that the texts could be a helpful resource for people in riskier situations.
“It's not as urgent for us, but I definitely am grateful that the University is making that available to people,” she said. “I think that it's better than no reminder at all, definitely, but it might not be the biggest motivator.”
These new testing protocols differ from the University's earlier recommendations, where testing was not available on campus unless a student had been in contact with a test-positive individual or was experiencing symptoms.
Tia Sparks, a senior math and business double major, said she believes the change now is to prepare for spring.
“To me, the point of all this, trying to get us to get regularly tested, is to kind of establish an infrastructure and see if it's viable to do that for like, the spring semester,” she said. “So to me, that's enough motivation to go get tested like, pretty regularly.”
Sparks said she was disappointed that a similar program was not implemented earlier on in the semester.
“If that meant that we could have had more in-person classes or a more successful semester, that would have been worth it to me to do it earlier in the semester,” Sparks said. “I think it's a great program and I just wish that it had been implemented earlier.”
Pittman emphasized the importance of continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing in addition to more frequent testing.
“Continued compliance with the University's Community Standards, of wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing, combined with routine testing, is best practice," Pittman said.
Walk-in testing is available at the Carolina Union building from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays.
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