Wittenberg held a free COVID-19 testing event on Wednesday, Sept. 9 as the university saw an 8,500% increase in COVID-19 cases in a two-week period starting Aug. 28. Wittenberg has 86 confirmed cases as of Friday, Sept. 11 with 13 probable cases.
Students were first informed of the testing opportunity in an email from the COVID-19 Response Team on Monday, Sept. 7. To test a larger percentage of campus and allow individuals without symptoms to be tested, Wittenberg connected with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Education Chancellor Randy Gardner to set up a pop-up test facility on campus.
The testing event was held in the Pam Evans Smith Arena and saw Wittenberg staff checking in students, faculty and staff to wait to be seen by a member of the Ohio National Guard.
“Wittenberg did a very good job with the flow,” said Katie Hiestand (’22), “I thought I was going to be there waiting in line, but I was in and out of there.”
The National Guard conducted nasopharyngeal swabs in both the nostrils to ensure that enough material was collected for each sample. Wittenberg told The Wittenberg Torch in a statement that it conducted 446 tests during the five-hour testing event.
“That was my first time, I didn’t know they swab for ten seconds,” said Anthony Petruzzi (’22) of the testing experience. “He [talked] me through the whole time, which I though was very nice.”
Petruzzi said that one of the reasons he got tested was the idea of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to his friends, housemates and family was a “very scary thought.” This fear of spreading to friends and family was echoed by Hiestand who got tested for “peace of mind” after encountering an individual who was positive.
In DeWine’s daily COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, Sept. 10, President Mike Frandsen described a concern that CCCHD was seeing a high number of close contacts from Wittenberg’s positive COVID-19 cases, approximately ten to 15 close contacts per case compared to a typical two to three contacts per case.
“Wittenberg is somewhat of a close-knit community,” said Petruzzi, “It’s hard to adhere to the guidelines sometimes.” Wittenberg’s community acts as a breeding ground for COVID-19 as Frandsen explained during his time in DeWine’s press conference Thursday.
“It’s really the resident units and social gathering that are driving our challenges. We are seeing the spread in the [Witten’burbs], neighbor to neighbor, block to block,” said Frandsen. This high level of spread was cited as reasons that Wittenberg moved to remote instruction beginning Sept. 7 in statements to The Wittenberg Torch from the Office of University Communication.
When asked by The Wittenberg Torch why the Wittenberg did not pursue testing prior to or during move-in as performed by other schools in the NCAC, Wittenberg responded with a statement that cited long test turn-around time and little known benefit beyond other measures already in place. The statement also stated that “the resources necessary to conduct and manage such testing were cost-prohibitive.”
“I think if we had [testing], I think people would listen a little better and see how big of an issue [COVID-19] truly is,” Hiestand said of testing at Wittenberg. The University partners with Mercy Health to offer a testing clinic to symptomatic students on Monday-Thursdays between 1-4pm at The Steemer Lobby.
When asked if they had a plan when a test came back positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, Hiestand responded that she would likely quarantine off-campus with a family member in order to allow her roommates to stay at Wittenberg.
“How many people have I seen face to face, how many things have I touched? Have I washed my hands enough,” Petruzzi said of his thoughts while waiting for test results. “The idea that I could have been spreading it unknowingly was a pit in my stomach.”