Effluent testing gaps create an unsafe living environment

Photo by Aubrey Roché

AFTER TAKING the Fall 2020 semester off due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19, many factors influenced my decision to come back to campus. For the fall, I had been hesitant to return due to so many unknowns about college in general during the pandemic; however, after seeing how well Lewis & Clark fared in the fall, I felt safe returning to school.

LC boasts quite a few COVID-19 safety measures that they have enacted to keep the community safe. Weekly testing clinics, campus being closed to the public and effluent testing of residence hall wastewater are just a few of these policies. Returning to campus, I was under the impression that all residence halls were being effluent tested. However, I soon learned that my dorm, Hartzfeld Hall, actually was not being effluent tested, with hardly any additional testing to make up for this gap. Since Hartzfeld A, B and C dorms are all set aside for isolating students after testing positive for or coming into contact with someone with COVID-19, Hartzfeld D, where I live, is not eligible for effluent testing, according to Associate Dean for Health & Wellness, Director and Chief Psychologist John Hancock. Additionally, Holmes Hall, due to its close proximity to Hartzfeld, is not being effluent tested either.

Students living in other dorms have the safety net of knowing that if the virus causing COVID-19 is detected in the wastewater, they will be informed early; I do not have that safety net. If there is an outbreak in Hartzfeld, we might not know until it is too late, and the virus has already spread. This causes increased anxiety and uncertainty about my own safety.

Additionally, this was not adequately communicated to me before moving in. LC was happy to assuage our fears about being on campus during a pandemic because of their effluent testing system. Still, I did not get confirmation that my dorm was not being effluent tested until I read the first issue of The Pioneer Log this semester. I had been on campus for multiple weeks before learning the true state of my COVID-19 safety.

In order to ensure the safety of students in Hartzfeld and Holmes, the college is including students from those dorms more regularly in their weekly surveillance testing clinics, according to Hancock. However, at the time of print, I have only been tested twice since returning to campus, on Feb. 9 and March 9. Getting tested once a month is not going to do much to accurately track the spread of the virus in my residence hall, and does not assure me that my safety is a priority of the college. Hancock indicated that a fraction of the students living in Holmes and Hartzfeld are being tested every week. However, randomized surveillance testing does not replace the security of weekly, residence-hall wide effluent testing.

I understand that testing LC students is a great financial and logistical challenge. However, I believe that the students of Hartzfeld and Holmes deserve better. All students living in these buildings should be tested at least every two weeks, if not more, in order to ensure our safety. Testing students from these buildings at higher rates than students living in effluent-tested halls is the best way to create an evenly tested campus. Additionally, if there have not been students in the isolation dorms for a number of days, effluent testing should resume for Holmes and Hartzfeld. During times like these, it is the least that LC can do to support us. The college needs to better protect students who are unable to be effluent tested in order to keep all students and community members safe.

This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log, its editorial board or those interviewed for background information

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