Students line up at Robert Purcell Community Center on North Campus for COVID-19 testing on September 3.

Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Students line up at Robert Purcell Community Center on North Campus for COVID-19 testing on September 3.

September 3, 2020

Cornell Testing Program Falters on First Day, Sees Long Lines and Scheduling Complications

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On the first day of surveillance testing, many students are already facing long lines and a malfunctioning Daily Check system.

After many students reported issues with scheduling tests, the Daily Check Team sent an email at 11:06 a.m., reporting an error with the system and promising to provide an update as soon as possible.

“Some students encountered difficulties with the Daily Check today due to a data error that inadvertently altered their testing frequency and/or testing days. Affected students were notified of the error and their correct assignments were restored today in the Daily Check tool,” wrote Vice Provost for Academic Integration, Gary Koretzy in an email to the Sun.

This situation was later resolved, according to a follow-up email sent to students at 4:47 p.m. In the email, the team wrote that some students assigned to get tested Thursday experienced technical difficulties with scheduling and completing their test, so they should instead wait until their next assigned day for testing. The Daily Check is a software used to monitor symptoms daily, assess the risk factor survey and schedule testing.

“Critically, do not schedule for tomorrow and do not walk-in to a test site,” the Daily Check team wrote in the email.

There were also long delays at some of the testing locations, including The Fischell Band Center, Willard Straight Hall and Robert Purcell Community Center.

Skyeler McQueen ’21 woke up at 7 a.m. to sign up for an 8 a.m. testing slot, arrived at RPCC early, and waited 40 minutes in line for her test. Once she reached the testing station, the procedure was brief, but the scheduling process left McQueen worried.

”I checked at 8 p.m. last night to see if I could schedule my test yet, and the portal said I had no testing dates assigned but still had the blue banner at the top that said I have testing tomorrow,” McQueen said. “I emailed the helpline, and they seemed confused but told me to check back in the morning. Today, it was fixed, but I had been very concerned.”

Like McQueen, Alejandro Schmieder ’21 also had issues scheduling his test — his assigned testing days changed three times within a 12-hour timespan. Last night, his schedule was Tuesday and Friday. When he logged onto Daily Check today at 6 a.m., his daily check schedule was Sunday and Wednesday. Later in the morning, his schedule was changed yet again to Saturday and Tuesday. By 3 p.m., his schedule had changed back to Tuesday and Friday.

Janelle Morano grad arrived early at The Fischell Band Center for her 8:30 a.m. appointment this morning, only to see a long line already forming. She waited over an hour to get in the building, and then had her test done within five to seven minutes.

“The only information we got was someone came down around 8:40 and said there were technical issues that they’re working on and thank you for our patience,” wrote Morano in an email to the Sun. “I had a 9 a.m. meeting that I was severely late for.”

Koretzky attributed some of the delays in testing to the high volume of students on the first day of surveillance testing, stating that more than 5,000 students were tested.

“We recognize that we are suffering some growing pains and are working to increase efficiency,” said Koretzky. “The cause for the lines was multifactorial, including that some students arrived at a time different from their appointed test.  Improvement in the surveillance program’s protocols plus adherence to appointment times at all site locations will be critical to ensure lines do not form and that students can move quickly through the process.”

As the day went on, some people scheduled for testing at Fischell were permitted to go to get tested at King Shaw Hall instead. Nora Brown grad was concerned about what kind of wait she would face at her 1:45 p.m. band center appointment. However, after she was redirected to King Shaw Hall, she was tested within 15 minutes.

The Fischell Band Center served as the COVID testing site for gateway testing and will continue to conduct surveillance testing throughout the semester.

Ben Parker / Assistant Photography Editor

The Fischell Band Center served as the COVID testing site for gateway testing and will continue to conduct surveillance testing throughout the semester.

“The folks organizing the line said the wait was probably going to be 30-45 min as they were ‘running slow inside’, but they were giving everyone the option to head to the ILR station instead,” Brown wrote to The Sun.

Isabel Calderon Reyes grad went for testing at 8 a.m. this morning at Willard Straight Hall, and waited for over an hour in line. While the long wait was inconvenient, Reyes wrote in an email to The Sun that she appreciated the testing staff’s kindness and understanding.

While Estefanía Perez ’21 had a good experience with her initial test Aug. 8, she was increasingly concerned about the scheduling process for surveillance testing. Her testing days are Wednesdays and Sundays, but she would like to be able to schedule her test a day ahead and potentially have a set time. Not getting tested on an assigned testing day is a behavioral compact violation.

“It feels kind of like, first come first serve, the morning of,” Perez said. “I would like to know what timeframes there are ahead of time.”

Some students had mixed feelings with Cornell’s testing program because of “consistently unclear communication between administration and students,” wrote Austin Cochran ’21 in an email to The Sun.

With the wait times ranging from a few minutes to hour-long wait times, “it just seems as though the testing program is not well organized in terms of scheduling,” Cochran wrote.

Concerns about Cornell’s testing are not new — long lines have been an issue since Cornell launched its arrival testing program.

Katherine Holmes grad had a concerning experience with arrival testing on Aug. 27. When confronted with the possibility of waiting in line inside Bartels to receive a test alongside 30 other students, she declined to get tested that day and is now trying to arrange alternate testing accommodations at the Cayuga Medical Center location at Ithaca mall.

“I felt so much safer outdoors because everyone was wearing masks and being respectful about distance, but then I took a look at that hallway and I just panicked,” said Holmes.

According to Koretzky it was not intially planned to have a testing site at Bartels, but because of inclement weather the site at the Livestock Pavilion was moved.

“We appreciate that the hallway queuing was not ideal, but this site change was necessary for the safety our students, families, and employees,” Koretzky wrote in an email to the Sun. “To manage the pending weather changes, the Fischell Band Center site will relocate to Bartels Hall balcony area above Newman Area. All other sites, such as Sage Chapel, ILR Conference Center, RPCC and Willard Straight Hall also have adequate interior queuing and one-way directional flow.”

Some students had a more positive experience with testing, describing the tests as administered with “maximal friendliness and compassion” wrote Sam Vucic ’23 in an email to The Sun.

On Thursday evening, Cornell decided to implement adaptive testing for some students, after it shifted their COVID-19 alert level to yellow after an initial cluster of nine cases reported last Friday grew to 39 cases Wednesday evening.

The new adaptive testing will include screening not only close contacts but also other students who might be impacted. Since 36 of the 39 cases in the cluster are student athletes, Cornell is now testing more members of select athletics teams.