The expected “return to normal” for the fall semester has quickly become another leg in the continued COVID-19 struggle. The delta variant of the virus has contributed to a sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations, particularly in the South. But at unions such as the Carolina Union at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, extensive, on-site testing has remained the norm in helping keep everyone safe. And for the Carolina Union, that means offering testing five days a week.
“We are doing daily testing in the union, every weekday, but not through student affairs,” said Alexandra Marchesano, executive director of the Carolina Union at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “It’s through our local hospitals and a local doctor who we’ve worked with.
“The testing site is located in our art gallery area, and that’s primarily because the gallery is located on a main thoroughfare, so it is easy to access. You can get in and then get out without going anywhere else in the building. The testing center has been in place for quite some time. It was here all summer and began last semester. And yes, you can go in and get your test and view the artwork while you’re there.”
Vaccine and testing requirements vary at every level of government and The Chronicle of Higher Education provides one of the most up to date resources and regularly updates its list of universities and colleges requiring students and staff to be vaccinated. To date, at least five states have so far made efforts to ban mandates for masks, vaccines, and vaccine passports, and the the National Academy for State Health Policy has been tracking similar efforts taking place around the country. This pits some campuses directly against state governments in an ongoing battle for student and employee health.
But with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval Aug. 23 of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, a rush of vaccine mandates were put in place on campuses across the country. Rowan University, Oakland University, Ohio State University, all State University of New York campuses, and the University of Minnesota were just a few that adopted vaccine mandates for students since the Aug. 23 approval.
Carolina Union’s testing site is one of three on campus, and testing is open for “anybody…that works on campus,” said Marchesano. “Since our vaccination rate is quite high—more than 80 percent—the testing space isn’t as busy as the rest of our building, where students want to hang out. But anyone on campus that is non-vaccinated is getting tested twice a week.”
A wide range of recommendations, mandates, and even penalties have been instituted. Quinnipiac University threatened unvaccinated students with fines up to $2,275; the University of Connecticut, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and various Michigan colleges and universities are requiring masks; Grand Valley State University and Duke will require vaccines; and schools such as Clemson University, Ohio University, and Minnesota State will enact frequent on-site testing.
At the Carolina Union, Marchesano hopes to eventually return to normalcy. “The only challenge is that [our site] is a programming space for our students, so we’d love to see the testing space downsized to a smaller space so we could use it again,” Marchesano said. “But even though our vaccine rate is high, we’re just being cautious due to the delta strain being out there.”