Administrative Executive Editor
Keene State returns to an in-person semester this fall, however, vaccines and masks will not be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. Weekly testing throughout the semester is necessary for the school to remain vigilant and aware of the number of COVID cases.
Many schools in the United States released statements concerning reduced testing and an optional mask policy for vaccinated students for the Fall 2021 semester. According to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) website, students who have uploaded proof of vaccination will only be required to test twice a month. According to the Plymouth State University (PSU) website, students and employees who have uploaded proof of vaccination will be tested randomly throughout the semester.
Because of the size and proximity of UNH and PSU, as well as their inclusion in the University System of New Hampshire, it only seems logical for Keene State College to follow suit. However, Keene State announced that testing will be continuing weekly for all students and faculty at least through the month of September, regardless of vaccination status.
This is ultimately the safest decision that the administration could have made. While rates of vaccination are high on campus, COVID-19 is still at a concerning level in New Hampshire. On September 1, 2021, the New Hampshire COVID-19 Response website reported 372 new cases within the state. This serves as proof that the pandemic is not over and that easing restrictions now may be detrimental to the success of the in-person semester. The surge of the Delta Variant and the appearance of COVID-19 cases in vaccinated people also make testing more necessary.
Testing and contact tracing are some of the most effective preventative measures when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19. While sources including Mayo Clinic have admitted that it cannot be assured that a COVID test is 100% accurate, it aids in the swiftness of care and isolation of those who test positive. At Keene State, it is important that those who are sick are isolated from the rest of the campus community and given necessary care if symptomatic. Being aware of these cases means that the college can trace who the individual may have been in contact with, and retest them to, hopefully, bar an outbreak from occurring.
The test that Keene State has students do is called the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. The FDA outlines the type of swab test by the depth the Q-tip is inserted into the nose. Students are given the much more comfortable option of anterior nares test that is only inserted into the nose about a fingernail length’s distance. This was definitely a good choice on the college’s part. If students were uncomfortable during their testing process, they would be less likely to complete it. This may be one of the factors that the COVID dashboard (https://www.keene.edu/featured/fall2020/assets/documents/surveillance-monitoring/download/) shows a 99.78% compliance rate on testing for students. Particularly last spring, testing became part of the student experience at the college and every member of the community became accustomed to their weekly testing.
Given the familiarity of last spring’s testing schedule, the biggest issue with many students this semester is the inconvenience of having to fit it into already busy schedules. This semester, the hours of testing have been greatly reduced from 8 a.m to 7 p.m. in the spring to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this fall. This can be difficult for students who have a class schedule that is heavier in the mornings.
There are a few feasible solutions to this issue that many schools have already implemented. According to their websites, both UNH and PSU utilize self-testing programs in which students pick up and drop off tests within an allotted time. Keene State should consider doing this to cater to students with busy schedules. Sometimes students are unavailable to wait in line for half an hour to get tested, and this solution would certainly eliminate the time aspect of testing. The other solution would be to increase testing hours again and allow students to find a time that fits their schedule. If the testing is required for all students, it should not feel like it is interfering with their classes, jobs and activities on campus.
Continuing testing throughout the fall semester will ultimately keep students safer, but Keene State needs to address the inconvenience factor. Students who feel that testing is a distraction from their lives at college will not comply with the weekly testing requirements. Though it has worked in the past, scheduled and monitored testing is not the best option. The college would be more likely to see all students being tested and have a successful, in-person semester if they catered testing to students’ schedules instead of a predetermined schedule.
Meeghan Somerset can be contacted at