University says PCR tests are only offered on a limited basis for those partaking in NU-related travel


Daily file photo by Ava Mandoli

A statement released from Northwestern reveals PCR tests are not as readily available now, despite a heightened number of cases and reports of false negative antigen tests among the student body.

Maia Pandey and Iris Swarthout

Northwestern is only offering PCR tests on a limited basis to faculty, staff and students who are required to obtain a PCR test for University-related travel, University spokesperson Erin Karter told The Daily in a Thursday email.

Instead, Karter said NU’s primary testing infrastructure will continue to rely on rapid antigen testing because these tests have been proven reliable to identify individuals who are “most likely to be contagious.”

For Weinberg sophomore Aidan Ocampo, a former Daily op-ed contributor, rapid test reliability has been mediocre. He is currently stationed in 1835 Hinman after a positive test result collected Thursday, May 5. However, Ocampo said he first began experiencing symptoms the Tuesday before, but his rapid test that day came back negative. 

His next test, collected on Thursday, was his last before he entered 1835 Hinman, but according to Ocampo, he isn’t the only one in his friend group who received a false negative. 

“My friend came (to Hinman) with me after I tested positive,” he said. “She had tested negative that morning and went to get another test because I tested positive.”

Weinberg sophomore Valentina Velasco said she had a similar experience when her friend tested positive. After receiving a false negative, Velasco tested positive on a non-NU-distributed, at-home test and proceeded to test positive again at the Donald P. Jacobs Center. 

She added that she attempted to get a PCR test between when she received a false negative and her at-home positive test result. However, she said the University did not respond to either of her calls to Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service Evanston at Searle Hall in hopes of getting one. 

After these experiences, Valesco said she no longer believes NU’s testing apparatus is as reliable as she used to think it was. 

“I do wish I could feel more comfortable,” she said. “Especially since testing isn’t mandated anymore, it just makes me feel a lot less confident in knowing how active COVID is on campus.”

Last week, NU reported a 7.40% positivity rate — the highest of the pandemic during a week when campus has been open to full capacity. In a May 5 email, Vice President for Operations Luke Figora reiterated the University’s plans to implement a no testing or masking requirement through the end of the academic year.

Though the University has not communicated with the larger campus community about the increased positivity rate, several dorms have received emails about increased COVID-19 spread. Jones Hall, 640 Emerson, Shepard Hall and the ​​Communications Residential College residents were all notified of case surges in their dorms this week, according to emails obtained by The Daily.

Along with instructions to avoid large gatherings and wash hands frequently, Jones residents on certain floors have been barred from hosting guests through May 15. All Shepard and 640 Emerson residents and third-floor East Fairchild residents cannot host guests through May 17.

According to Ocampo, occupancy numbers at 1835 Hinman even over the past week have increased. On Wednesday, Velasco said the building was seemingly busier, and Ocampo said one of the workers mentioned about 15 new students were admitted, which is the highest number they’ve seen.

“Recently, there’s definitely been a big influx of residents here … I’ve met more people in the lounge recently,” he said. “And then based on how many paper bags are in the hallway, the meals are distributed in rooms that used to be empty.”

The lack of mandatory Universitywide mitigation measures comes as the campus community looks forward to several large events. Students will attend a prom for second-years Saturday night at the Congress Plaza Hotel, and students and non-NU guests will gather on May 21 for the 50th annual Dillo Day. 

NU Black Formal released a statement Thursday apologizing for a spike in COVID-19 cases resulting from its annual event this past weekend. 

“We will ensure that all future events we hold will feature mandatory testing, not just the NU standard vaccine or weekly negative test assurance,” the statement said.

The second-year prom planning committee also sent an announcement Thursday mandating masks on buses to and from the event, per public health guidelines on public transportation. It also strongly encouraged masks at the venue and testing ahead of the event. 

University President Morton Schapiro joined the ranks of 302 community members Tuesday evening when he tested positive for COVID-19.

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