December 18, 2021 | NEWS | By Eli Jaynes | Image by Aida Hasson
As students are well aware, Colorado College altered its procedure for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing after November’s fall break. Instead of making an appointment at the Boettcher Student Health Center to get tested, students are now required to pick up Abbott BinaxNOW COVID tests to administer in their dorm rooms, apartments, or houses. Each of these take-home tests are proctored by a telehealth provider via eMed and results are delivered to students through the Navica app.
For symptomatic testing, or testing following close exposure to COVID-19, the Yalich Student Services Center will remain open by appointment.
The new procedure rolled out as students returned to campus after fall break. According to an email from the COVID-19 Policy and Implementation Committee, on Dec. 1, “more than 1,500 students have already taken their initial test (or are within their 90-day window, on leave, or studying abroad), with only one positive test result.”
Based on these numbers, the college will aim to test 33% of the vaccinated campus population weekly. These numbers could change based on COVID levels on campus and within the community.
According to the Colorado College COVID-19 Dashboard, in the week of Dec. 8 to Dec. 14, 846 tests were administered under the new system with one positive case reported.
Dr. Andrea Bruder, math and computer science professor as well as Chief Public Health Advisor to the President, explained the switch to take-home testing, saying that since the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials at CC have been “dreaming” of an easily administered, at-home antigen test with a quick turnaround time.
Bruder says that dream came to fruition this year when at-home tests like BinaxNOW became widely available in Colorado. She says the college was committed to making these tests available to CC students as soon as possible.
“Antigen tests such as the BinaxNOW detect infections very reliably during the infectious period, that is, when a person is able to pass the virus on to others. This makes antigen tests excellent public health tools for screening testing,” Bruder said.
Antigen tests like BinaxNOW detect proteins in the virus to determine the presence of an infection. These tests differ from molecular tests, or PCR tests, which locate genetic material in the virus. Molecular tests are generally more sensitive and can detect an infection more reliably than antigen tests, especially in asymptomatic cases.
Molecular tests are used for symptomatic testing at the Yalich Health Center and were previously used at Boettcher for asymptomatic screening before the recent switch to antigen tests.
One advantage that Bruder identifies in take-home antigen tests is the convenience of testing, as students can perform the tests at home on their own time.
While there is praise for the convenience of at-home tests, a number of students on campus feel differently.
Gordon Clark ’23 told the Catalyst that he preferred the previous testing process because it was more convenient. Clark says that the BinaxNOW tests are much more time consuming and require more steps to get tested. In his mind, the new system feels less accessible and he believes it disincentivizes students from getting tested.
Clark’s sentiment was echoed by Sam Frykholm ’24, who had an especially frustrating experience with his BinaxNOW test.
Frykholm received two separate invalid results from his initial tests, meaning he had to return to the library three separate times to pick up a new test kit. Fryckholm says he properly administered the test all three times, but that his first two tests failed to show any result.
Beyond being a headache, Frykholm says that his experience made him question the accuracy of the take-home tests, which he considers “sketchy” and unreliable.
Dr. Bruder addressed this issue, saying that CC received a few faulty tests from the manufacturer, Abbott. Even in the case of an invalid result, “the test result still counts toward the testing requirement, and everyone will continue to have key card access to campus buildings,” Bruder said. Flaws like these will be worked out as the new system continues, according to Bruder.
For the time being, students can expect BinaxNOW tests to stick around, as the college will likely require some level of screening testing for at least the remainder of the year. Bruder stresses that the frequency of testing may fluctuate based on infection levels on campus and in El Paso County. For more questions, contact email@example.com.