Colleges, Universities Vary on COVID-19 Testing Requirements

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What to Know

  • Some schools provide home tests to students
  • Others require students get their own tests
  • Some colleges do not require tests or offer on-campus testing

Washington, D.C.-area colleges and universities are trying to prevent coronavirus outbreaks on their campuses, but there is a wide range in testing requirements and procedures according to a review by the News4 I-Team.

Some schools are sending home test kits to students, others are requiring students to obtain tests on their own, while other colleges are not requiring tests or offering on-campus tests before students are allowed to return.

The variations show the differences in philosophies for COVID-19 prevention and testing availability in the region and underscore the uncertainty with which education and health officials are beginning the semester amid a pandemic. 

James Madison University in Virginia is not requiring universal testing of all students who return to campus. The school is requiring students to instead quarantine for eight days and saving its testing supplies for those who show possible symptoms.

“Testing materials continue to be a limited resource and lab turnaround times are significantly negatively affected when more tests need to be processed,” a spokesperson said.


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Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg said it will not require testing for all students on campus either. 

“UMW does not plan to test every student before or upon their arrival,” a spokeswoman said. “In our view, doing so is not epidemiologically sound, and hardly any health experts recommend it. In fact, they advise against it because it gives a false sense of security.”

Several other Virginia colleges and universities, including George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University and William and Mary, have contracted with a private company to provide at-home tests for returning students. The tests would be self-administered by students.

A George Mason spokesman said the program has been successful so far. Of almost 2,600 students tested, six have tested positive, he said. Those six are not on campus, according to spokesman Michael Sandler. The university said if an outbreak were to occur, the university would transition to virtual learning and close some of its campus.

Bowie State University is not only requiring testing of its returning students but will also conduct surveillance testing among a random sampling of students during the semester. 

“All students living on campus have to complete a COVID-19 test within 10-14 days of arriving on campus for move-in,” a spokeswoman said. “Then, they have to do another COVID-19 test on campus before they can move into their residence hall.”

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COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

Hood College in Frederick and Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland said they will also conduct regular surveillance testing of asymptomatic students during the semester. Salisbury also offered free testing for students and staff last week at a shopping center near the school. 

Frostburg State University in western Maryland is offering testing for students in a region of the state where large-scale testing sites are unavailable.

“We are doing universal testing — students, faculty and staff — at the beginning of the semester,” a spokeswoman said. “We are encouraging as many people to get tested before the semester begins.”

Rachel Herman, a rising junior at the University of Maryland, said she has already taken her required COVID-19 test before moving into her on-campus apartment. Herman said she will take a second test upon arrival at the school’s arena in College Park. Herman said she is relieved that she tested negative but worries about classmates who must travel by air to return to the campus. Herman said she is also concerned about fellow students who don’t take the virus seriously.

“I’m worried about holding everybody else accountable,” she said. “This is such a big accountability thing. It does make me a little nervous.”

Reported by Scott MacFarlane and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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