COVID Corner: Updates on Reed’s Testing Plan

Amidst stories of fraternity parties and soaring case numbers, Reed has been relatively successful in preventing the widespread transmission of COVID seen at other institutions. When asked her thoughts on the success of reopening, COVID-19 Response Coordinator and Health Project Manager Madison Riethman said she feels overwhelmingly positive. “Our first and foremost goal was limiting cases in our community, which we did very, very successfully,” she says.

Riethman highlighted the wide variety of new protocols implemented by the college as the key to its success in limiting transmission of COVID-19 during the fall 2020 semester. These measures include frequent testing, encouraging students to wear masks and keep social distance, and creative solutions for classrooms and other shared spaces. Any of these protocols alone wouldn’t have yielded the success the college saw, Riethman said, but their combination led to widespread success in limiting COVID transmission. Riethman also credits the Reed community as a large part of last semester’s success.

“The vast majority of students, staff and faculty, and everybody who was on campus day in and day out really took this seriously. I think that is exactly why we saw really limited transmission of COVID on campus, because everybody really took it seriously,” she said.

After such a positive semester, how could the college possibly improve its COVID prevention and response plan? Instead of changing already successful protocol, the college’s focus has shifted to making existing protocol even more robust. 

One of the biggest changes concerns the strengthening of the college’s already expansive testing process. During the fall 2020 semester, all students living on campus were asked to conduct a surveillance saliva test twice a week, and students living off campus, faculty, and staff were asked to conduct the test once a week. This semester testing capacity has increased to 2,400 tests per week, with all students accessing campus being asked to conduct a surveillance test twice a week and faculty and staff once a week. All Bon Appetit employees working in Commons are also now being tested once a week in addition to other community members. 

While an increase in testing will likely lead to an increase in cases, Riethman says that it is nothing to be alarmed about. 

“Chances are, we’re going to find more COVID cases. But also, we’re finding those cases. So while it might make our case counts go up, it’s also going to allow us to respond and put a stop to it really quickly,” she said. 

In addition to increasing testing, staff will now be following up with students more closely if they miss surveillance tests during the week in order to assure compliance. Riethman understands that testing twice a week can be challenging for students to schedule, so the college is working to make the process simpler for students. 

Riethman emphasized how much of a community effort COVID prevention is. “In order to have the good positive response that we did in the fall, it’s going to take a village… We recognize that it is hard, and we want to try to make it as easy as possible.” she said. 

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