Over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic rendered in-person learning and communal living unsafe, Georgetown University welcomed undergraduate students back to campus just a few weeks ago. Although the university announced via email that over 95% of students, faculty and staff are now fully vaccinated, infection rates nationwide as well as within Washington, D.C., are rising even within highly vaccinated populations.
Georgetown must increase its testing requirements for all students regardless of vaccination status in order to identify and contain outbreaks on campus and within greater D.C.
On Aug. 27, Dr. Ranit Mishori, Georgetown’s interim chief public health officer, announced in an email that the university would implement a new COVID-19 testing protocol, randomly selecting and testing a group of vaccinated individuals each week. This announcement came after the university originally planned to only require an arrival test and forgo a regular testing requirement for vaccinated students. While the new protocols require more testing than the original fall plan, they still relax the testing requirements set by the university during the summer semester, which required students living on campus to get tested once a week.
Testing random samples of students rather than the full student body will undoubtedly lead to more cases going undiagnosed, a misstep that has the potential to put students, faculty and staff at risk.
The Editorial Board urges Georgetown to reimplement mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing for vaccinated individuals to control the spread of the virus on campus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posed regular testing as a crucial strategy to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in academic environments. Taking preventative action against the spread of the virus should remain a top priority for the university. Given Georgetown’s densely populated environment, regular testing will help to identify infected individuals and prevent them from spreading the virus to others.
Georgetown athletic teams already require their players to get weekly COVID-19 tests. After the university suspended football practices for a week and cancelled the team’s season opener because of COVID-related concerns, Georgetown updated its testing guidelines to regularly monitor student-athletes weekly for COVID-19.
The regular testing provides assurance for athletes who have to constantly interact with teammates and others, according to baseball player Jack Weeks (COL ’22).
“Knowing you’re going to get tested every week reminds us that COVID is still an issue, and to be careful about following the correct protocol,” Weeks said. “It makes you feel safer at practice knowing that every individual there is healthy to participate.”
Weekly testing would benefit the community by minimizing the chances of infection, especially from more transmissible variants like the Delta strain, which can still be spread among vaccinated individuals.
Regular testing would alleviate a great level of concern for many immunocompromised community members as well as professors who teach in person, according to English professor and disability studies scholar Libbie Rifkin.
“I have common variable immune deficiency (CVID) and because of that, I did not make a robust antibody response to the vaccine. I’m thrilled to be back in the classroom, but I do feel vulnerable. I have heard from other immunosuppressed and immunocompromised faculty that they are also nervous, which is reasonable in the age of Delta,” Rifkin said in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown’s current testing system may fail to identify COVID-19 infections early enough to prevent an outbreak. The university, however, believes the random asymptomatic testing is sufficient given the high vaccination rates on campus.
“We have selected to initiate a randomized testing program at this time based on a number of factors, including our very high vaccination rate, the clinical features of infections with the Delta variant, the size of our on-campus population, and the duration of required isolation, among others,” Mishori wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown’s high vaccination rate will help ensure the safety of the community, but a more robust testing program will protect the well-being of the entire community. Close contact with dozens of people with varying underlying health conditions is inevitable in the dining hall, closely packed classrooms and communal living spaces. Students also engage with individuals throughout D.C., and the university must recognize that the District’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than that of university members. It is imperative that Georgetown value D.C. residents’ safety in its testing protocol.
Additionally, while the random asymptomatic testing protocol requires fewer resources, the benefit of universal testing outweighs increased testing costs. Both American University and Howard University currently conduct regular weekly testing for all students regardless of vaccination status. It is financially and logistically feasible for Georgetown to do the same.
Mandating weekly testing would provide critical and potentially lifesaving measures against infection. Without it, the university will endanger the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff most at risk for serious illness.
The Hoya’s Editorial Board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion editors. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.