OPINION | Why COVID-19 testing twice weekly backfires

Deeya Patel, Views Editor

Testing twice a week is not all that it’s chalked up to be. (Gabe Darley)

Last week, Tulane Campus Health announced that, along with on-campus students, undergraduates residing off campus would also begin testing for COVID-19 twice a week. While this may be wise given Tulane University’s current steady average of a 0.5% positive rate and an orange Action Alert Level, increasing testing is not the most effective solution for reducing virus transmission among college students. 

Of course, increasing testing can help stop an infection ripple in its tracks. This along with comprehensive contact tracing are vital to keep COVID-19 as contained as possible in the community. But, what if this particular community does not heed public health precautions? 

College students are social beings. Interactions with friends, professors, fellow club members, classmates and coworkers are the foundation of their social life. Mingling in college is inescapable, and the sudden nonexistence of a social life simply does not compute for most students. 

It is easy to blame students for throwing house parties and meeting in groups of over 15 people. Undoubtedly, these behaviors are reckless and selfish. But, why would you not see your friends and go to bars when you receive bi-weekly emails stating you have tested negative for COVID-19? 

Frequent testing intensifies a false sense of security. After being exposed to COVID-19, one can still test negative, but show symptoms and have a positive result later on

Even if someone were to receive an initial false negative only to find out they were actually positive that same week, how does Tulane account for all the places that person might have gone and all the people with whom they might have come into contact? Consider a student who receives an email on a Friday morning saying that they have tested negative. Imagine all of the events that could transpire before their next scheduled test the following Tuesday. 

Increasing the number of weekly tests means nothing if students cannot comply with social distancing guidelines and the public health protocols enforced by the university. 

Just last week, Dean of Students Erica Woodley admonished students for walking without masks on, hosting house parties and renting party buses. It seems unlikely that students will change their behavior midway through the semester. 

It is also important to recognize the wastefulness of completing nearly 14,000 tests each week. These same tests could have been performed on those who are truly compromised, instead of university students who should not have returned to campus in the first place

Attempting to persuade an entire student body, a vast majority of which desperately crave the social interactions of their normal college lives, to follow public health guidelines is ambitious. Increasing testing twice a week for undergraduates only perpetuates a false sense of security and immunity, encouraging even more violations of social distancing and risk-tolerant behavior.