Routinely test all students in dorms

Hannah Lopez

This past weekend, around 3,600 students moved into UT’s residence halls for the fall semester. According to UT’s Protect Texas Together guidelines, 75% of those students are predicted to contract COVID-19 symptoms while living on campus. 

Despite this data, the University did not require students to be tested for COVID-19 before move in, nor will they require residents to be regularly tested throughout the semester. This decision possibly compromised the health and safety of residents by allowing potential asymptomatic students to enter residence halls.

In order to limit the spread of the virus and increase transparency, University Housing and Dining should make it mandatory for students living on campus to get routinely tested this fall. 

Aaron Voyles, director for residence halls operations, stated that UHD will follow the guidelines set by University Health Services, which is to encourage, but not require, residents to be tested for COVID-19 prior to coming on campus or routinely thereafter. 

“There’s not a requirement for students to be tested before move in,” Voyles said. “But we are part of the proactive testing procedure with UHS, so we’ve started working with them to offer testing so that students will be able to get tested before the first day of class.”

The UT Proactive Community Testing Program was designed to monitor the spread of infection by testing up to 5,000 asymptomatic UT community members each week at no cost. 

However, according to Interim President Jay Hartzell’s announcement, “The university will identify and reach out to individuals and groups to participate in voluntary, proactive testing and is not currently accepting individual requests to participate.”

Voluntary testing will show significantly different results than mandatory testing. Just because testing is encouraged, there is nothing stopping asymptomatic students from forgoing testing and exposing other residents to the virus. UT cannot claim to be proactively testing the community when it allows members to opt out of the program without definitive reasoning. 

For Arundhati Ghosh, an incoming electrical and computer engineering freshman who will be living at Andrews Residence Hall this fall, her main concern about living in a dorm is that other students may not take the pandemic seriously and might disregard their own safety as well as their neighbors’ health. 

“I can’t control how other people respond to the pandemic even though I can control what my own response will be,” Ghosh said. “I know we’re supposed to isolate or quarantine 14 days before moving in, but I’m sure there will be people who blatantly ignore that.” 

The students who are disregarding the health and safety guidelines probably aren't going to be the ones volunteering to be tested. In order for UT to limit the spread of the virus, they need to require students to be tested on a regular basis throughout the semester.

Ghosh believes that routine mandatory testing would limit the spread of the virus from the students who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough to voluntarily test and would make her feel more comfortable living in the dorms. 

“I think UT should make testing mandatory,” Ghosh said. “A lot of people who are moving into the dorms will be freshmen and we don’t really know what we’re doing just in general, so I think knowing the administration has its eye out for us and is keeping track of the things would put me more at ease.”

UT cannot control how students respond to the pandemic, or whether they will adhere to the health guidelines put into place. However, UT can and should take control of testing its students, especially those in vulnerable housing situations such as residence halls. Anything less and they will be leaving the health and safety of a substantial portion of the student body up to chance. 

Lopez is a rhetoric and writing junior from Nederland, Texas.