Administration to begin another round of COVID-19 testing

Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer

On Nov. 17, 18 and 19, Berry will do another round of testing before students leave for the winter break, Debbie Heida, according to Chief of Staff.

The testing will be similar to the one executed in late September and early October. Like last time, the testing will be in the Cage Athletic Center. Students will be asked to take both a PCR and antigen test. The antigen test will provide immediate results, within 15 minutes. However, there are a few changes as well, Heida said.

This round will only test Berry students, not faculty or staff. There is a plan to use an appointment system, where students sign up for one of several slots provided in an hour on the dates of testing. However, this is still being finalized and confirmed for use. Additionally, there is some interest in having students’ daily Medicat reports given in lieu of a symptom checker like the one students filled out after taking their tests. However, this has yet to be officially decided on by administration.

Berry will once again be doing the testing through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Northwest Health District.

Heida explained that this move is for the safety of students as they return home.

“We’re doing that because we’re about to send you back into other communities and, so, if we really want to make sure to keep our community safe, we want to make sure we’re doing the same thing as we’re sending you back into family gatherings,” she said.

Currently, plans to test students for COVID-19 in the spring semester are being thought out by the Berry administration.

Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor says that Berry plans to provide information about testing before students leave for the break, however, that is still up in the air.

“We would love to say we’ll be able to communicate before you leave for Christmas break, but the reality is, with testing, so many variables could change,” Taylor said.

The biggest issue with testing is finding a vendor and the means through which testing can occur. Taylor said that the idea is for testing to occur upon student arrival rather than before then. Taylor said that the administration does not plan to use VaultHealth for the spring testing.

Testing is determined by the administration, not by the Heath Center, director of the Health Center, Emma Cordle said. The Health Center is only responsible in testing symptomatic students and following up on positive cases through the contact tracers.

As it stands, the current regulations in place at Berry, including masks, social distancing, personal bubbles and hybrid classes, will continue in the same manner into the spring semester.

“Unless something just major happens over the next few months, I don’t foresee the current guidelines shifting at all, or going away,” Taylor said.

That being said, Berry will not announce specific guidelines or unique changes until much closer to the start of the semester, during a moment Lindsey calls ‘game time’. This is when Berry would announce changes such as limited visitation, as was seen at the start of this semester.

Many of the guidelines Berry follows are set by the DPH, which is in turn guided by the CDC. While Berry’s rules are going to follow the statewide regulations, there may be a few unique changes given Berry’s status as a residential college. Over the break, the administration plans to go over potential changes on how many people need to go into quarantine. 

The round of testing that will occur before students return home may also play a role in how students are tested when they return to campus, Heida said.

“We have been in conversation that, hopefully, this research we are helping them [the CDC, DPH] with will validate the rapid test and it’s possible… we will just be able to use the rapid test when we return on campus in January, so that it would be part of the check-in process,” Heida said.

However, she reiterated that this is only a potential plan and is not confirmed in any way with regards to how COVID-19 testing will operate in the spring semester.

All of the information given by students through the COVID-19 testing will remain private and no identifiable information will be given to the CDC of students. The college plans to use a random number generator to attach to students’ testing information that would go to the CDC, Heida said.

Another change the administration has planned is to interact more with isolated and quarantined cases, Taylor said.

“We’re also just going take a look at … what are some ways that maybe we can make the experience a little bit better,” Taylor said. “You know, just in terms of some checkpoints at different times … [and] asking how folks are doing.”

From Taylor’s perspective, this semester has been a rocky experience for everyone on campus.

“Have we had some issues, yeah,” she said. “This has been something that none of us have ever had to do before and we’ve had to step out of some comfort zones and we’ve had to put aside individual desires or preferences for the good of the whole community.”

However, Taylor is also happy with how students have been taking responsibility to mitigate cases.

“It makes me proud to be a part of the Berry community and it makes me thankful and grateful to work with a student body that I do get to work with,” Taylor said. “You know, when you think about how frustrating all these guidelines are, y’all been resilient. You’re tired, you’re over it, but you’ve been resilient. And so, for that, I think this semester has been incredible.”

Regardless, Taylor stresses that these last two weeks of the semester may be the most important of the whole semester.

“You know, we’ve got [two] weeks left,” Taylor said. “And I think, you know, now’s not the time to let off the gas. I think it’s easy to think, ‘Oh, we’ve got [two] weeks, we can let our guard down’, but I think [it] is now even more important to finish strong.”

In the end, Berry has completed 10 weeks of on-campus instruction, something that many people were unsure would happen when students returned to campus in August. For Taylor, everyone has played a part in helping make this a reality so far into the semester.

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