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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC's testing program is a disaster — but it's not too late to fix it


DTH Photo Illustration depicting a nasal swab used for COVID-19 testing.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that only one testing location was open to students during move-in. There were two locations open to students during move-in. Additionally, the University conducted on-site testing at seven residence halls. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for these errors. 

COVID-19 testing. It's a good thing — if you do it right. 

According to an email sent to the campus community on Monday, UNC has tested more than 6,900 people in six days as students, faculty and staff return to campus for the spring semester.  

The Carolina Together Testing Program requires all undergraduate students living on campus and in Chapel Hill or Carrboro to participate in regular asymptomatic evaluation testing throughout the semester. Students are also required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before their arrival and test at a UNC site once they return. 

However, the process has been less than efficient. Although the University plans to offer COVID-19 testing at three different locations across campus, not all locations were open to students during move-in — leading to absurdly long lines and testing shortages. 

Photos of lines beginning at the Student Union and extending down South Road were shared on social media, with many students criticizing the inefficiency and lack of planning. Some expressed concerns that testing could become a “superspreader event” and that gathering students in small indoor spaces might actually increase their risk of exposure.

After months of preparation and planning, is this really the best UNC could come up with? One would think that a university with a multibillion-dollar endowment — not to mention the No. 2 public health school in the country — would have the resources to pull this off efficiently. 

Currently, undergraduate students must test once a week if they live off campus in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, even if they are fully remote and do not access campus. But students must be tested at an on-campus location to fulfill the weekly requirement — they are not permitted to submit tests from off-campus testing sites. College campuses are notorious COVID-19 hotspots, and with a cluster at Carmichael Residence Hall announced as move-in began, some students would prefer to stay home and avoid campus altogether. 

UNC is not the first university to implement an asymptomatic evaluation testing program for its students. Other schools across the country have done so, too — and they've been successful. Here are some improvements UNC can make to their testing program: 

  • Allow students to submit tests from off-campus sites. Requiring students to come to campus when they otherwise wouldn't is a risk to everyone. Not only would this reduce the burden on campus testing sites — it would be a safer alternative for off-campus students who may wish to steer clear of campus. 
  • Open a drive-thru testing location. A drive-thru testing location would address concerns of COVID-19 exposure at on-campus testing sites, as well as reducing the demand for parking on and near campus. 
  • Stagger reservation slots to prevent long lines. On Monday, UNC announced that starting this week, there will be two lines at each testing location — one for reservations only and one for walk-ins. If lines are long, volunteers should be present to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing while in line. 
  • Explore other testing options. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is offering self-administered asymptomatic testing to students on a weekly basis. Students may pick up a self-administered COVID-19 test kit at one of numerous vending machines across campus. 

Perhaps the University will say these solutions are too costly or unrealistic. Well, they should have thought about that before they brought us back. We're here now, and it's their responsibility to keep us safe.

Regular asymptomatic evaluation testing is critical, especially if the University hopes to avoid repeating the disasters that occurred in the fall. But a half-assed testing program won’t cut it. Videos are already circulating on social media of students breaking COVID-19 precautions and attending parties, putting their fellow students and Chapel Hill residents in harm's way. 

UNC can't afford to get this wrong. 


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