In wake of changed COVID protocol, ASB Senate votes to provide free antigen tests

By Tanvi Shukla

In light of recent changes to campus COVID policy, the Associated Student Body (ASB) has begun offering free COVID tests as of Oct. 4 to students in an attempt to make COVID prevention and monitoring more accessible.

The World Health Organization recently downgraded COVID-19 from pandemic to epidemic status level due to lower case numbers worldwide and minimal spikes occurring around typical illness peaks. In light of COVID’s new status, Lewis & Clark has made several changes to campus policy that loosened restrictions and made case monitoring optional.

In an email from the LC bulletin sent out on May 26, the college updated new and returning students on the revised COVID policy.

“Over the past three years, Lewis and Clark successfully developed and implemented safe and effective prevention tools to keep our community healthy and united in the face of the COVID pandemic,” the LC bulletin said. “Now that the Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 has expired, it is time to again change our approach in response to changing conditions. Based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon Health Authority and Multnomah County Health Department, we have simplified and updated many of our COVID policies and requirements.”

One of the biggest changes is that LC will no longer be providing free COVID tests to students. Instead, COVID tests are available for purchase at the campus bookstore and are limited to one per student. This came as a shock to many, as testing over a multi-day period is still recommended as one of the best ways to detect COVID.

“Antigen tests are available for purchase in the campus bookstore, at local grocery stores and online,” according to LC’s COVID information page. 

Instead of providing free tests, the website provides a link to a sign-up to receive free at-home COVID tests from the government.

Now, ASB has stepped in to fill the void that this lack of testing availability has left. In an email on Oct. 2, ASB announced that they would be providing free COVID tests. 

“The ASB Senate unanimously approved the purchase Covid-19 tests. These tests will be available for pick-up to students free of charge, offering you the opportunity to monitor your health and safety more conveniently,” the email stated.

“ASB recognized the critical importance of ensuring the health and safety of our student body. We heard from many community members that current test access provided by the school was unreliable, and to many people, inaccessible,” ASB President Alex Chapelle ’24 said.

Chapelle emphasized the importance of ASB coming together to unanimously vote for buying these COVID tests as the Senate required a 9/10th vote for this motion to pass.

“The unanimous decision underscores the need expressed by students and emphasizes the belief that access to testing is crucial for the well-being of every student. It reaffirms our commitment to working together to ensure a secure and thriving learning environment,” Chapelle said.

As of now, there is a limited quantity of antigen tests available with ASB potentially looking into buying more in the future.

 “For the time being, ASB purchased 900 wholesale rapid antigen COVID tests with the intention that this will hopefully last us some time,” Chapelle said. “This number was decided on after seeing what the school had purchased to supplement the supply at the bookstore.”

The tests have been available down at Campus Safety since Oct. 4, though Chapelle asks that students be considerate of the limited resources.

“While these tests are available for all students, be mindful of others that may have a more immediate need for these tests,” Chapelle said.

In addition to changes around testing, one of the most important updates is that vaccinations are no longer required.

“As of June 1, 2023, Lewis & Clark no longer requires students or employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters to attend school or work,” the website said.

Another change is that isolation rules are now less restrictive and require less time in quarantine. Where in the past students were required to quarantine for five days and pass a negative COVID test, now as long as symptoms are improving, students do not need to remain in isolation. 

“Isolate in place until your symptoms are improving and you have been fever-free for 24 hours. You do not need to get a negative antigen test in order to end isolation. You do not need to isolate for 5 full days if your symptoms improve before then and you remain fever-free,” the website said. 

The college website does advise wearing a mask for ten days after symptoms begin.

The new COVID policies adopted by LC reflect the government’s declaration of COVID’s epidemic status. However, ASB’s decision to fund COVID testing indicates strong student interest in maintaining campus wellness, regardless of national trends. The effects of providing free testing will hopefully ameliorate the high case numbers on campus.

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