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UNC students experience long waits, confusion in first week of mandatory testing

Students wait in line at the Student Union to receive their bi-weekly COVID-19 test on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.

Students getting tested for COVID-19 have been met with long lines and wait times at some of UNC’s newly opened testing sites, stirring frustration on the first day of the spring semester.

On the first day of classes, some students were asked to consider rescheduling or canceling their appointments after a HallPass error mistakenly allowed for infinite appointments at the Student Union site, Steven King, chief innovation officer for the Reese Innovation Lab, said.

Dr. Amir Barzin, the medical director at the Family Medicine Center in Chapel Hill, said this error may have caused the influx of students at UNC’s other sites, the CURRENT Art Space and Rams Head Recreation Center, on Tuesday.

He said some flaws were not unexpected in a platform rolled out just 10 days ago.

“These are things that we’re working on,” Barzin said. “While we expect that the beginning of a process is not going to be perfect, and we’re going to need to improve it, I do think, at the end of the day, the experience is not something people would walk away saying this was a terrible experience.”

But some students, like Robert Bouknight,a senior studying exercise and sports science, were not pleased about the wait.

“If students have to wait in these types of lines, it’s going to be a long semester,” said Bouknight, who waited in line at CURRENT Art Space for about 40 minutes on Tuesday.  

Undergraduate students living in the Chapel Hill area are required to take a COVID-19 test at a UNC site upon returning to campus

According to King, 1,400 tests were performed on Tuesday, and more than 8,000 tests have been performed since the Carolina Together Testing Program began. 

UNC Media Relations declined to provide daily testing numbers to The Daily Tar Heel on Wednesday and directed reporters to the Carolina Together Dashboard's testing section, which shows that 9,883 tests have been performed since the start of January.

The long lines reported Tuesday were similar to Sunday’s long lines at the Student Union. 

At one point, the line extended as far as Venable Lots by the Genome Sciences Building. The line cleared out around 10 minutes before the site closed at 5 p.m.

But many students chose to get tested Sunday, as testing sites would be closed the following day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

“Everyone's back on campus now, so it’s reasonable that there would be a bigger line,” Brooke Bordonaro, a senior computer science student, said. “So like, it’s kind of understandable, but again, it would be easier if it was faster.”

Some took to social media to voice their concerns Sunday afternoon. Lamar Richards, chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity at UNC, wrote in a tweet at around 2:45 p.m. that parking lots near the sites were full. 

Bordonaro, along with several students the DTH interviewed, reported short wait times on Sunday despite the long line. Most said they’d been in line for between five and 15 minutes. 

“I don’t really mind waiting in line if it means more people getting tested,” she said. 

Katherine Egan, a biology major who lives off campus, stood in line on Sunday with her roommate. Like many first-year students, Egan moved off campus when Carolina Housing shut down operations shortly after the start of the fall semester. 

Both students said they are willing to wait in line once a week for mandatory tests if it means regaining a sense of normalcy.

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“We don’t know what things are supposed to be like regularly,” Egan said. “All we can do is hope for it to become a little more normal, but at the same time, we don’t know what normal is.”

King said his team has made 42 modifications to HallPass’s interface since launching on Jan. 11 and continues to monitor platforms such as Reddit and the UNC Help Desk for student feedback. Despite the hiccups, he said, the program has already worked toward preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“It is successful because we have already, through the testing, been able to determine that there have been some positive cases that have been found,” King said. “The testing program is working.”