KINGSTON, R.I. – Mandatory COVID-19 testing for all University of Rhode Island students is taking place this week and next at the Kingston campus, the university announced Monday.
URI set up two locations for asymptomatic testing, at the Memorial Union Atrium and the parking lot of the Ryan Center.
The state school is conducting the tests in collaboration with the state Department of Health, in order to assess the entire student body and set a baseline to measure student health for the rest of the fall semester, URI said.
“Testing started Monday, and the target is to complete it on Saturday, Oct. 17,” URI spokesman Dave Lavallee said. “That could change, but that’s our hope.”
The university continues to be within the positivity rate recommended by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, URI administered 2,660 tests and had 74 positive COVID-19 cases, for a 3 percent positive test rate, according to the URI COVID-19 tracker.
As of Monday, URI had 494 total people in isolation or quarantine, and 73 students in university isolation or quarantine. Thirteen percent of URI’s isolation beds are occupied. Since Jan. 22, URI has recorded 192 positive cases out of 10,658 tests given, for a 2 percent positivity rate.
“We tested every student who was going to live in our residence halls upon arrival for move-in, close to 4,000 students,” Lavallee said. “Then we continued to test the students who had symptoms or felt they might have been exposed and were asymptomatic.”
In discussions with the Department of Health, officials decided “it was time to take a look at the whole student population,” Lavallee said.
Students take the self administered test by putting a half-inch cotton swab in each nostril, and the procedure is observed by a trained university member or Department of Health representative.
The entire process, which URI described as painless, takes about five minutes, although URI said students may have a short wait depending on the time of day and number of people also taking the test. Results are expected within 48 hours and all students are notified of their results, whether positive or negative, Lavallee said.
Students who are ill or have any COVID-19 symptoms were asked not to show up for a test, but to call URI Health Services to schedule a test and telehealth visit.
According to URI, all students would receive an email the day before their scheduled test, notifying them of the day and time they are required to get their test, the testing location they should report to, and instructions to follow on the day of their test. The students would show up at the test site with a completed Dominion Diagnostics form and their health insurance card.
But there was some grumbling Monday from students who complained about the short notice the school gave them to report for testing.
“I purposely switched all of my classes online this semester so I could avoid coming to campus,” nursing student Kristen Choiniere said. “Most of us have jobs and commitments outside of our classes. A day’s notice is completely unacceptable.”
But students like Choiniere who have completely remote learning are exempt, Lavallee said.
“We’re not testing students who are getting all of their classes online,” he said. “It’s only those who are coming to campus and residents who are living here. If you live in New Jersey and you’re all online, you don’t have to come get tested.”
There also was concern about how the tests were scheduled.
“We shouldn’t have scheduled appointments randomly assigned to us with only a day’s notice. I work part-time and my boss would not accommodate me for something this ridiculously unplanned once a week,” student Michaela Barcelos said. “I work 20-25 hours a week and I live in Massachusetts. I live a little over an hour away. I have one in-person class so I’d have to get tested even though I live out of state.”
URI also is working to accommodate students that take classes in Providence, Lavallee said.
“There’s only a small number of students who attend classes in Providence, but we are making arrangements to test them there so they don’t have to travel to Kingston,” he said.
Students who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in the past 90 days do not need to be re-tested at this time, but URI asked them to email proof of their positive test.
Testing is not mandatory for faculty and staff, Lavallee said. “They continue to be part of the surveillance testing program and can come get a test anytime without an appointment.”
URI emphasized that the mandatory testing could ensure that the school can continue face-to-face classes for the remainder of the fall semester.
It also reminded students that if they don’t comply, they will be referred to the Dean of Students Office. Not reporting for mandatory testing is a violation of the URI Student Handbook.
All students are expected to participate, including students learning online, unless they have a health accommodation or are living out of the state or country.
The week of Sept. 14-20, URI placed three Greek houses – two sorority houses and a fraternity – into a two week quarantine after a total of six members tested positive for COVID-19.
On Sept. 6, a large gathering of students took place in Kingston, and video of the incident surfaced. That led URI officials to increase campus police and staff patrols. URI administrators have accompanied campus police on ride-alongs on the weekends to help identify any large gatherings and disperse them regularly.
Students violating the prohibition on large gatherings, on or off campus, can face suspension or expulsion from the university.