Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
American University’s Student Health Center has tested around 2,000 students for the coronavirus since late August, averaging 50 students per day, according to Dr. David Reitman, medical director of AU’s Student Health Center. However, some students have faced difficulties with the COVID-19 results app, Tempus.
When students get tested at AU, they receive an email to set up an account on Tempus after filling out a form. After students download the app and create an account, they receive an email that their results are available about two to five days after the test.
Junior Ashley Bastin said she experienced complications with the app after her first time being tested.
“I clicked it, downloaded the app and then I had to create a password,” Bastin said. “And for some reason it was saying that I had already created a password, even though I had never downloaded the app.”
Bastin said that after communicating with the Tempus app’s helpline, she was directed to AU’s health center to view her results.
“I got into contact with somebody from [Tempus] tech support and they said that my name had been spelled incorrectly and then my birthday had been entered wrong when they put in information into the system,” Bastin said. “So I wasn’t able to access my results through the app, even though I tried everything they told me in tech support and then I ended up having to go through the health center to get my results.”
Bastin, who arrived in D.C. from Florida, was required to quarantine for 14 days in accordance with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s executive order on people coming to the District from high-risk states.
“I had to get tested when I came back so that I could go back to work. Since the app was malfunctioning, it kind of delayed my ability to get my test as soon as it was available to me,” Bastin said. “This is all very new, so I understand that there’s some bugs.”
Various other students have had difficulties viewing their results on the app, and the Student Health Center has been working toward facilitating the testing process as they have been testing a large number of students each day.
“There have been some complaints [from students], and part of the fact is that the app is in the process of just being refined,” Reitman said. “We do about 50 tests a day; we may get three or four students a day who have difficulty accessing the app, and usually the reason why they can't get in is because there was an error.”
Typically, errors can come from students incorrectly recording personal information on the forms or the public health associate in the health center misreading and mistranscribing information if it isn’t very legible, according to Reitman.
“I’m pretty sure I put my name and birthday correctly, but I know it was like a combination of inputting name and birthday wrong and somehow having a password without having downloaded the app,” Bastin said. “So I think it was a little bit of user error and a little bit of technicalities also.”
Although human error can cause issues with receiving testing results, some students say there are problems with using the app itself.
Two days after getting tested, senior Alexandra Consolino said she received a link through her student email to download the app. She was unable to connect her student account to Tempus, which prevented her from being able to create an account.
“Once you download the app, it should bring up a screen where you can type in your information to create an account, but for some reason I was not getting that second page. I was only able to download the app,” Consolino said. “I wasn't getting any sort of prompt so that I could create an account so that I could see my results.”
Tempus declined a request for an interview, saying that staff members were busy, but they released the following statement to The Eagle.
“We are currently aware of some errors that our users experience, including when information required to validate the user's identity doesn’t match our records completely and they are unable to register and login to receive their results,” the statement said. “We have continued to work through that very small number of cases with American University and the affected individuals to ensure timely access to results is provided, but only if we can verify that the results are being directed to the right person.”
With different obstacles arising, the Student Health Center is providing students with their results if they are unable to use Tempus. Students can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, if they have trouble with the app.
“Occasionally, there have been some issues on the Tempus side too so there's not been one specific pattern of why students have had issues,” Reitman said. “That said, any students who had a problem getting their results through the app can just contact us either through email or through our secure messaging, and we can get them their results the next day.”
Instead of partnering with LabCorp, a global company that has prominently supplied COVID-19 testing services, AU strategically worked with Tempus in order to provide students with free testing and to have results delivered at a faster rate, Reitman said.
“AU spent over a half a million dollars for this semester alone,” Reitman said. “We wanted to be able to do this at no cost to students, and with LabCorp we would have to charge their insurance.”
With no definitive sign of COVID-19 vanishing anytime soon, as of Oct. 26, this testing service identified 31 cases out of the 2,000 tests given within the student community, according to Reitman. This is slightly higher than the number listed on AU’s COVID-19 tracker because the tracker excludes students who have only been to the University in the preceding 30 days to get tested without spending more time on campus, according to Reitman.
“We are hoping that we're going to be able to expand on this, both next semester and going into next year as needed because we know that doing these kinds of testing and contact tracing is a fundamental part of controlling the spread of infection,” Reitman said.
Despite having issues with the Tempus app, Consolino and others said they are satisfied with the actual testing process in the health center, but hope that there will be improvements with the app soon.
“The testing process is so easy that AU should just be making sure that getting the results is also simple too and just make sure that the app is efficient, essentially,” Consolino said.