How other small, private colleges in Portland compare to Reed
Across institutions of higher education, testing plans vary significantly due to the variety of public health advice and scientific knowledge about the virus, as well as the logistics and costs of launching a testing plan. Testing systems become more complicated and costly as student population size increases. A larger school does not have the same ability to test its on-campus community twice a week as Reed does, according to Reed College Vice President for College Relations and Planning, Hugh Porter, who chaired the Campus Health Working Group in the spring and summer, and currently co-chairs Reed’s COVID-19 Task Force and chairs the fall College Preparedness and Response Working Group.
Larger university populations are also less central than smaller colleges, and it is harder to monitor who is coming in and out of the campus or even determining the boundaries of the campus itself, especially if a university has multiple satellite buildings spread throughout a city. In those cases, a single testing spot will not efficiently serve the community.
“In general, bigger schools, I think, face challenges with a bigger population, so if you have more people attending your school, you have to have more testing, which is more expensive [and requires] more resources and things like that,” said COVID-19 Response Coordinator and Health Project Manager, epidemiologist Madison Riethman.
Reed’s testing plan is largely a product of the very structure of the college.
“We are fortunate that we have actually been able to come up with a testing plan that really has a great capture or good sample size of our population,” Riethman said. “We are able to test every on campus resident twice a week; we are able to offer testing weekly to a third of our off campus students who come to campus; all faculty who are teaching in person are being asked to test weekly; a lot of staff are being asked to test weekly, particularly those who have a lot of in person interactions like our community safety officers or our library staff.”
Even among small, private schools, colleges have tackled the virus and testing differently. Here’s how a few other small, private liberal arts colleges in Portland have adapted to the pandemic:
After students arrived on campus for the semester, Lewis & Clark (LC) College conducted a round of surveillance testing. For the rest of the semester, the college has provided tests for symptomatic students and students with known exposure to COVID. In addition, the college conducts effluent testing, according to LC’s website under their “COVID-19 Response” page.
“Lewis & Clark has partnered with Clean Water Services to conduct sewer surveillance, also known as effluent testing, of the College’s residential facilities where doing so is feasible based on the configuration of residence hall sewer lines,” according to LC’s website. “Testing of wastewater from designated buildings is a newer technology that holds the promise of helping us identify where there might be potential virus on campus.”
The University of Portland (UP), another small, private university in the Portland area, decided to keep their residence halls mostly closed for the fall semester, and the vast majority of their classes are virtual with only a few in-person classes available, according to the “Coronavirus” page on UP’s website.
“Students who are enrolled in the limited number of courses that will be held in-person may apply to live on-campus,” according to UP’s website. “Additionally, a limited number of students with compelling needs will be permitted to live in residence halls.”
As a result, UP has administered far fewer tests. Ultimately, it is meaningless to compare the number of positive cases found at each university, as it is not always apparent how many cases are students vs staff, how many cases live on campus or just have access to it, etc. However, it may still be beneficial to compare the diverse set of strategies and testing programs in order to better evaluate the best option for Reed moving forward.