Since June 1, UT has conducted just over 38,900 COVID-19 tests through Proactive Community Testing, a voluntary testing opportunity on campus. Of these, 408 have been positive.
Since Aug. 2, Duke University conducted just under 70,000 COVID-19 tests through their strict mandatory testing program. Of those, only 84 were positive — over 300 less than at UT, where over 30,000 less people were tested.
Clearly, rigid testing plays a huge role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 on a college campus.
Clearly, UT has some catching up to do.
As we prepare for another semester with COVID-19 as a frightening reality, UT must better incentivize weekly testing in order to identify asymptomatic cases and mitigate community spread.
Susan Hochman, associate director for assessment, communications, and health information technology at University Health Services, said that because UT is a public institution, they cannot require students to get tested for COVID-19.
“For attending class or anything that would impact a student’s degree, we are not able to mandate testing,” Hochman said.
However, this does not mean the motivation should be entirely up to students. If testing cannot be mandated, the next best option is to strongly incentivize it.
Midsemester, after numbers showed that far fewer students were getting tested than expected, UT implemented an incentive program, offering students the chance to win $50 gift cards to various stores around campus.
However, when up to 5,000 students may participate in Proactive Community Testing per week, a 4% chance of winning a gift card is not enough to encourage large numbers of students to change their weekly habits.
Math junior Neil Srivastava didn’t even know that the incentives existed but agreed that if they were stronger and better advertised, they would be effective.
“I think there are people out there who don’t care about getting tested but they probably would want to if they got something out of it,” Srivastava said.
Data shows that participation in Proactive Community Testing has increased over the past few weeks. However, not all of this can be attributed to the incentive, as many students getting tested right now are doing it to prepare to go home for the holidays.
Additionally, this trend probably won't continue into the spring. When students come back for yet another online semester, they may bring testing fatigue and COVID-19 apathy back with them. The best way to ensure that Proactive Community Testing participation stays high is to roll out better incentives to keep students wanting to come back.
Other universities are offering much larger incentive programs, and are consequently seeing much more student participation. If a student gets tested at Baylor University, for example, they could win free parking passes, meal plans or up to $5,000 in scholarships. These incentives seem to have worked. Baylor has less than half the student population of UT and has conducted about 10,000 more tests.
These incentives may sound elaborate, but if UT can afford to pay their president over a million dollars, they can invest a little extra money into making sure an adequate number of students are tested.
The best way to stop the spread of the virus on campus is regular COVID-19 testing, but the practice shouldn’t be entirely up to student motivation. Since mandating regular testing doesn’t seem to be an option, incentives are the next best thing. Next semester, stronger Proactive Community Testing incentives must be implemented and properly communicated to students.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.