Staff Editorial: Student body deserves transparency on COVID-19 protocols and accountability
Administration has shifted responsibility onto the disabled community to advocate for their own health and safety
The Disabled Student Union released a petition calling for the American University administration to mandate weekly COVID-19 testing for the AU community in order to track the spread of the virus and protect communities directly affected by the pandemic on Dec. 16. Currently, the University only requires students, faculty and staff who plan to return to campus to test within 48 hours of arriving and receive booster doses of the vaccine by Feb. 10.
The Eagle stands in solidarity with the DSU and AU's disabled community and their demands that the University facilitate a clear line of communication with their students to ensure that every individual is protected in their campus-wide decisions.
Since the announcement of spring classes being virtual in January and the plan of returning to in-person operations, students have pointed out gaps within AU’s COVID-19 protocols.
One of the significant issues at hand is that the DSU had to create a petition at all because disabled voices are continuously drowned out in campus policy decision-making. Not only should the administration have accounted for and communicated with the disabled community before their COVID-19 protocols were made, but it is also upon students to take responsibility for not posing threats to the health of their peers. The belief that most people will get it will have “mild symptoms” blatantly disregards immunocompromised students in our community. We’ve collectively placed disabled issues on the backburner to protect our individualistic tendencies.
We acknowledge that the petition was created when we were assumed to be in-person for classes, and the need for mandatory testing will be all the more important when we return to in-person operations on Jan. 31. If the administration ultimately decides to impose a testing mandate, it should be required to test one to two days a week. Bi-weekly testing would fail to detect a viral load, as a viral load is present two to 14 days after being exposed. How we approach the testing process is flawed, raising questions on whether one should attend their activities during the day waiting for their results. But would mandatory testing make testing results even more delayed? With the likelihood of the positivity rate increasing with a mandate, how will we expand limited isolation housing? Is there a different standard for students off-campus and how will that be implemented? Testing frequently would mean that results would take longer to get back, which is a downside, but it’s crucial in order to contain the virus.
Catholic University published a statement detailing how they were joining in on local universities’, including AU, partnerships with Shield T3 and mentioned that AU, Catholic, Marymount University and Gallaudet University were to use 5,000 tests per week out of 50,000 total that the T3 could process in early 2021. Though the AU community comprises more than 5,000 individuals, the highest number of community members the University ever tested last semester was 3,297. While this number was a significant peak in testing during the last week of the semester, the average number of tests administered every other week last semester was slightly less than 2,000.
With little to no communication on how we will move forward as a community amid the pandemic, it leaves students, faculty and staff with ambiguous interpretations on how to protect themselves. Per President Sylvia Burwell’s email, KN95 masks will be provided by the University starting in January. Questions surround the method of distributing these masks for everyone, and if it will remain consistent throughout the semester.
Maybe AU can’t mandate tests because T3 cannot provide and process the amount necessary. Perhaps their argument comes from the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require prolific testing for campuses that are vaccine-mandated. The University should be clear in their rationale rather than silent in their response. There is overwhelming evidence that not all students feel safe on campus, and those students — as well as the entire student body — deserve an explanation.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that KN95 masks were mandated on campus.