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Monday March 27th

UNC announces new spring testing program, but some students say it's overdue

<p>UNC is extending COVID-19 testing hours at the Carolina Union toward the end of the semester to allow students living in residence halls and off-campus housing near Chapel Hill to get tested before returning home for winter break.</p>
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. UNC's new testing program for the spring semester will allow students to self-administer a noninvasive nose swab COVID-19 test.

As UNC plans to require reentry COVID-19 testing for students in the spring term, some students feel the changes are long overdue. 

The program, discussed at a Board of Trustees meeting last month, is set to open three COVID-19 testing locations on campus starting next semester. Students will be able to self-administer a noninvasive nose swab test, a shift from UNC’s use of saliva testing in the fall. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced the Carolina Together testing program in a campuswide message on Nov. 23. 

The three testing sites will be located at the CURRENT ArtSpace on Franklin Street, the Student Union and Rams Head Recreation Center. 

Undergraduate students who are living on campus or in Chapel Hill or Carrboro or are taking in-person classes will be required to test once prior to returning to campus. Graduate students, faculty and staff are not required to test prior to arrival. 

How often students will need to test during the spring varies: 

  • Students having in-person classes, living in residence halls, living in the area with 10 or more people or staying in Granville Towers must test twice a week. 
  • Students taking remote classes and living off campus in Chapel Hill or Carrboro must test once a week. 
  • Graduate, professional and post-doctoral students who teach, take classes or do lab work on campus must test up to once a week, with an exception for graduate students in programs where daily symptoms are monitored.  

Staff and faculty who are accessing campus, as well as remote graduate students, are allowed to voluntarily test once a week. Staff and faculty members working remotely are not included in the program. 

Results will be available within 48 hours from a lab being built in the Genome Sciences Building, Dr. Amir Barzin, medical director at the Family Medicine Center in Chapel Hill, said at the BOT meeting.

“It should take no more than two minutes for someone to come through and register themselves for their test, administer the test and then walk out of the testing center,” Barzin said at the meeting.

UNC will join other universities across North Carolina that are employing the same preventative measures to lower COVID-19 case numbers among students, such as Duke University, which began mandated regular testing for students in the fall. 

Gabriela Duncan, a junior interdisciplinary studies major, said she believes if a testing program had been implemented in the fall, the semester likely would have turned out differently. 

“It wouldn’t be as much of a disaster,” Duncan said. “We wouldn’t have been the joke of the nation for a couple of weeks if (UNC) actually would have had testing.”

To Duncan, regularly testing is nothing new. Since the fall term started, she has tested at the Union every Monday afternoon. She said the process was seamless because it coincided with her daily errands and took roughly 5-10 minutes. 

Duncan said she has never received a positive test and that she typically got her results back in 24 hours. 

“I did it every week just to be safe,” she said. “I have been seeing my friends, but I also don't know who they've been seeing and I don't want to put anyone in danger.” 

However, Duncan said she doesn’t trust the University to carry out the process because of the way it moved classes online after a week of in-person instruction in August. She said the process might be hard to enforce if testing lines are long or during exam periods. 

“I don't know how they would enforce this,” Duncan said. “I think a lot of students are doing this just for the well-being of the community, but I doubt that, after a bit, people are going to take it super seriously.”

Guskiewicz said in a statement that he hopes to forge a strong bond with the community at UNC this spring.  

“This past year has presented challenges no one could have anticipated, and we know our community looks to the University’s leadership to set a course toward success,” Guskiewicz said. “We have learned a great deal, and I recognize there is work to be done.”   

Elena Fernandez, an international student from Spain, said the mandatory testing policy eases her concerns of possibly moving to Chapel Hill early next year. She and her parents were concerned about the prospects of moving after what happened in the fall. 

“If you don't get tested all the time, there's no way to know,” Fernandez said. “I think getting tested is the only way to make sure things are going well.” 

She also feels getting tested on campus is more accessible because the service is free to students. In Spain, Fernandez is required to pay $150 in order to get tested, so she never did because she rarely left her house during the pandemic.  

“Making it free is a really good way to encourage people to get tested,” she said. 

Alexis Harper, a junior public relations major, has gotten tested twice during the fall. She feels a mandatory testing program in the fall could’ve improved the semester overall. 

Although she feels UNC’s testing program is a step in the right direction, Harper said the resulting factor and success is still in question. 

“There's no way to really tell what's going to happen with 2020 or whatever 2021 brings,” Harper said. “I am excited that they are starting to take measures to hopefully correct the mistakes we made in the fall.”


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