Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Despite a successful start to keeping COVID-19 numbers for a hybrid semester, students still struggle with the University's testing process.

October 4, 2020

‘No News is Good News’: Students Discuss The Surveillance Testing Experience

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Regular surveillance testing for all students, staff and faculty who spend time on campus has been a critical component of Cornell’s reopening strategy, according to administrators — who have taken to the press to herald the University’s low case levels.

However, even though most largely praised the ease of the testing process itself, some students have complained that the logistics of scheduling one have occasionally proved troublesome.

Alejandro Schmieder ’21, who usually gets his surveillance tests on campus or in Collegetown, said that, once there, getting a test is quick and easy.

“They asked for my net ID, full name, date of birth, and photo ID,” Schmieder said. “After the test, I take the swab, put it in the tube with my name label on it, and hand it back to them.”

But despite the ease of testing itself, Schmieder said he has found the scheduling process less than convenient, as finding a time of day that works for him has proven difficult.

“Usually, I book at night the day before or the morning of,” Schmieder said. “It’s been hard to schedule at times.”

Students who live off campus must also contend with the twice-weekly testing. Della Keahna ’22 is taking all of her classes online, but is still tested because she comes to campus to deliver food to friends and classmates

“I am feeding people, and even though I know that we are super safe about it — I try to do completely minimal contact with it — it does calm me down knowing that we at least have that indication that nothing’s wrong,” Keahna told The Sun.

Keahna thinks the surveillance testing process itself is easy. However, she balked at Cornell’s “no news is good news” policy for releasing test results — a student with a negative surveillance test will not be notified of this result.

“I was really frustrated,” Keahna said. “That wound up bringing me some anxiety because I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait to hear back from them.”

Adding onto the logistical issues is that not all students are coming to the time slot or location they signed up for, according to a surveillance testing employee, who decided to remain anonymous out of concern for their employment.

Employees have not been instructed to turn students away regardless of appointment timing.

“I think there aren’t appointments and locations for people sometimes, but some are just willfully going to the wrong one because they know they won’t be turned away,” the employee said.

Those already exposed to COVID-19 have a slightly different experience — they are exempt from surveillance testing while in isolation/quarantine, but may get diagnostic testing if deemed necessary.

Jessica Yuan ’22 tested negative for COVID-19 all three times that she was tested with anterior nares tests while quarantined at the Statler Hotel. She never received a nasopharyngeal test — considered the gold-standard for coronavirus diagnostics — despite her exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.

“Every time I got tested, they knocked on my door, wearing body suits, N-95 masks and face shields,” Yuan said. “I would open the door, and they would give me the swab. I would take off my mask so that my nose was showing, and they would watch while I was doing the test to make sure it was done right.”

While the testing process was simple enough for her, getting her results took a little more work. Yuan needed negative COVID-19 test results to get released on the final day of her medical isolation, and reached out to Cayuga Medical Center to find her results.

She had tested negative, and was released after two weeks of quarantine and thorough testing.

“On the day that I was supposed to leave, they wanted to make sure I was good,” Yuan said.