Reed College Ends Surveillance Testing

Have you noticed? On-campus surveillance testing has discontinued over the summer as the threat of COVID has slipped to the backburner of priorities across the nation. No more walks to Greenwood for random selected testing. No more just-to-make-sures that you’re negative after everyone has traveled from far and wide. In fact, no more ambiguous emails that someone in your class tested positive but you don’t know who. In other words, our accessible PCR surveillance testing is no longer available.

On a post from June 17, 2022, a congratulatory letter was sent out announcing the dissolution of Reed’s COVID-19 Risk Assessment Group (CRAG). Its responsibilities were transferred to the ERT, who now have the authority to manage the “college’s response to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases,” and only diagnostic testing is available for symptomatic individuals through the HCC. Yours truly attempted to reach out to the and got a return to sender message. It’s over! We won the game, right? 

Looking at the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Plan, readers can find a post from August 22nd, 2022, stating that the previous year’s restrictions have relaxed and now “more closely support day-to-day operations, given the endemic nature of COVID.” Students now can only get tested by the HCC for diagnostic purposes only, meaning you can only get tested if you exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. Some vestiges of the plague years still remain, however. There’s still housing dedicated to isolation on campus, masking indoors is “strongly recommended,” vaccines are still required for the most part, and, last but not least, mobile ordering at the dining hall will also continue, “which [has] been valuable for many reasons.”

This leaves individual professors who have taken it upon themselves to impose—or not impose—mask mandates in class. Furthermore, the prevalence of COVID on campus is now uncertain given the lack of surveillance testing and contact tracing. No surveillance testing allows for asymptomatic cases to slip through, and in the beginning of this year contact tracing was reduced to word-of-mouth. According to the new Reed dashboard, there have been 35 cases in the student population since August 20th. But how accurate is this?

“I think last year [testing] gave me more security, to get a test and know.” said Sal Wallin, a second-year student. “That was something last year that made me less worried, the fact that I could get tested all the time.” Sal said that last year he used surveillance testing every couple of weeks or so, but, even without it, he isn’t more or less worried about COVID this year.

At the end of 2021, CRAG released a report on the students, faculty, and staff’s reflections about campus protocols. The use of masks, vaccines, testing, and isolation accommodations were all cited as highly valuable from respondents. Additionally, it is reported that there were “23,391 COVID-19 saliva tets [sic] completed during the fall 2021 semester.” Testing evidently seems like a used and valued resource. Besides more vaccines, boosters, and slowing transmissions, what else could’ve led to the end of testing? 

Money, money, money! The price of free, accessible, and frequent PCR testing had to be paid somehow. Indeed, Anushka Patil in an article for the New York Times titled “U.S. colleges that once championed surveillance virus testing are backing away” discusses the nationwide decline that we’ve been observing. She writes that “universal surveillance testing involves a lot of work and a lot of expense, so colleges are contending with questions of sustainability” alongside other factors. While Reed did not explicitly mention finance as a factor for ending surveillance testing, it certainly must have been a consideration.

When asked if he wished surveillance testing was still available, second-year Ivo Nalefski said yes. “I am equally as concerned about COVID now as compared to this time last year,” he adds. “But it seems that everyone around me is less concerned.” He would get tested “once to twice” a week last year. During Renn Fayre, he and his friends tested almost daily. 

Overall, Reed ending surveillance testing and dissolving CRAG is part of a general trend of a less concerned attitude over the spread of the virus. Consequently, tracking COVID is now more difficult and less accurate, creating a weakness in public health monitoring for new variants and resulting in a decline in decision-making information. This leaves more responsibility to individual students to manage the spread of the virus through voluntary masking, social distancing, and isolation.

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