Staff Editorial: University’s COVID-19 testing plan needs clarification
Administration should focus on better communication with AU community
American University released its spring COVID-19 testing plan in the face of a semester with a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 and an effort to bring over a thousand students to campus. The plan itself raises some questions, but the failure of the administration to make these guidelines more widely known to the AU community prior to the start of the semester is equally concerning. Clarity is essential in a time when mistakes can have grave impacts on people’s lives.
Even though the Office of Campus Life has tweeted the University’s COVID-19 testing plan, the communication strategy the administration employed before the semester began was not sufficient. Rather than including it in a long list of updates in a single email, AU’s breadth of communication capacity should be focused on informing students. That includes relaying requirements earlier on to those living on campus, off campus and those anticipating coming in March. It would be in the administration’s best interest to designate a more consistent source dedicated to providing testing information and updates via email, in addition to those from President Sylvia Burwell. This way, students know where or who to look to and don’t have to rely on word of mouth to direct them toward testing facilities.
With the way this information was presented so inadequately prior to the start of the semester, the University has a lot of work to do before allowing a group of undergraduate students to come to campus and move into dorms. Students should not have to go searching for this information; it should be in their faces every day, through email, on social media or even by text from AU’s alert system. Utilizing the alert system not only guarantees that it reaches people, but it also underlines the significance of these testing guidelines. If the administration already has this infrastructure in place, why is it not using it to manage the current ongoing crisis?
To supplement this kind of wide-scale communication strategy, the University should consider reaching out to professors, who students speak to nearly everyday. Course syllabi have standard elements, including the Academic Integrity Code and academic resources available to students. COVID-19 has been a prominent part of our lives for almost a year now, and it shows no signs of disappearing soon. Why weren’t professors asked to include information about testing in their syllabi? This was an opportunity for the University to provide assurance and some clarity to students. Professors, especially those holding in-person classes, could have been a resource had there been an effort to inform them of the procedures.
The specifics of the testing plan itself raises questions about practicality and feasibility. Testing hours, for example, are not sufficiently scheduled to meet the needs of students. Some days, there is just a three-hour time frame around which students can plan their walk to the testing facility, stand in line, get tested and be on time to class. This lack of consistent hours is yet another hindrance to students trying to be safe and plan their already busy lives around testing requirements. Hours needs to be more flexible for students, staff and faculty to adhere to the guidelines and be able to conduct their business on campus.
In order for the test to have the best chance of being contaminant-free, students will have to follow restrictions such as not eating or drinking an hour beforehand. The University must do a better job at communicating these steps with students on a regular basis via email, social media and other avenues. Occasional reminders of the pre-test procedures is not enough; the administration must prompt students often and take advantage of AU’s alert system here.
AU’s spring COVID-19 testing plan leaves much to be desired, both in content and in delivery. If the University hopes to host a successful mid-semester experience for a group of students, it must radically increase its advertisement of testing procedures and consider expanding testing times. Students, faculty and staff, most importantly, need to know what is happening, but they also deserve to know why.
The University should make every effort to make communication with the AU community transparent and consistent at this time.