A Tale of Two Testing Centers: Students talk asymptomatic and symptomatic on-campus testing experiences

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Daily file photo by Binah Schatsky

A sign outside the Donald P. Jacobs Center. Northwestern students permitted to be on campus are now expected to get tested for COVID-19 weekly.

Isabelle Sarraf, Campus Editor

When Payton Shearn arrived at the Donald P. Jacobs Center for her mandatory COVID-19 test, she said she had no idea what she was walking into.

The Communication junior was among the first undergraduate students living off-campus to get tested at the center. As part of Northwestern’s three-step COVID-19 testing process for undergraduate students returning to campus, the University required asymptomatic students to get tested upon arrival at Evanston.

The Jacobs Center was formerly the home to the Kellogg School of Management, which meant most undergraduate students were venturing into unfamiliar territory to take their tests.

The day before her test, Shearn said she glossed over emails from administrators to see if there were any details on how the tests would be conducted but found none. She said the lack of communication made her more anxious than she already was about the testing process.

“The main part that was causing me anxiety was the fact that we didn’t have any of this information beforehand,” Shearn said. “There were lots of unknowns when I walked into the building.”

The University set up one big room in the Jacobs Center with several testing centers, each with four socially-distanced desks and chairs, Shearn described. She said each student was given a testing kit, and a staff member walked four people through the testing process at a time.

Prior to her test, Shearn did not realize she would be administering the COVID-19 test herself. On a mandatory consent form, the University informed participants that self-administered tests were less reliable.

“I assumed that there would be either nurses or some other health care professionals that would be administering the tests for us,” Shearn said.

Medill senior Eugenia Cardinale, who was also tested on the first available day for undergraduates, said she was surprised at the number of people there at the same time. She said the last time she was around that many people at once was in March, before stay-at-home orders were issued.

“(The test) was done in groups of people, which I thought was strange,” Cardinale said. “The person sitting next to me, yeah they’re six feet away from me, but that person could’ve been partying all summer for all I know. I was really confused afterward and frustrated.”

While at the center, Cardinale said she saw a note taped to a wall warning those getting tested that they would be asked their sex at birth during registration. She took to Twitter afterward to inform her transgender and nonbinary friends at NU about the policy.

Cardinale said she knew this could be very triggering to her transgender friends and texted them about it right away. The policy was never communicated to students prior to arriving at the center and there wasn’t an option to opt out of it, so she said she at least wanted her friends to be prepared.

“Northwestern apologizes in advance as that this is not aligned with our culture and practice of inclusivity,” the note at the center read. “Unfortunately, these fields and classifications are required for reporting results to the public health department.”

A couple blocks away, Searle Hall is testing NU students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. After waking up with congestion and a sore throat, Weinberg senior Aishwarya Jois made an appointment at Searle. There weren’t any other students there when she arrived, she said, and she was escorted to a private room by a nurse in full personal protective equipment to do her screening.

While the Jacobs Center testing was self-administered, Jois said her test from the Northwestern University Health Service was professionally administered. The test went “so far up” her nose that she started crying, she said, but was glad that it was performed by a doctor.

Jois said she was concerned about the possibility of infection given that four people would be taking off their masks indoors at the same time to self-administer the tests at the Jacobs Center. After hearing about the Jacobs Center testing experience, she said she was glad that her test at Searle was done in a room alone with a doctor wearing full PPE.

“It seems like they’re giving everyone a cheap test unless you have symptoms, and then they’ll give you a good test,” Jois said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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