As many students grab their laptops and morning coffee to gear up for remote classes, a small group of students also don a gown, face shield and gloves to run campus’s testing operation behind the scenes.
Cornell’s reopening plan leaned heavily on being able to test all of its students in order to identify when they are sick. The task of collecting the nose swabs falls on roughly 200 testing staffers, including some 80 students.
These students have had to weigh the increased potential COVID exposures with working a atypical campus job.
Annika Hoff ’22 was initially apprehensive about the number of people she would be interacting with on a weekly basis when she began working as a staffer at multiple testing sites in the fall.
Prior to the pandemic, Hoff held two on-campus jobs, both of which were dependent on normal athletic seasons taking place. Searching for a new well-paying student job, Hoff decided to work at the testing locations, a job that also counts towards physician hours for her pre-physician assistant course of study.
Hoff’s nerves were calmed during her first shift after she was given personal protective equipment and realizing that each interaction with students getting tested only lasted only a couple minutes.
“Personally I am really impressed with the sheer capacity of the testing program,” Hoff said. “As a student, prior to coming to campus I didn’t understand how such a rigorous testing program was possible.”
Since returning as a staffer this semester Hoff said her experience has remained relatively the same other than increased volume at certain popular sites such as Robert Purcell Community Center.
Jay Crandell ’22, who also began work as a testing site staffer last semester, views his contribution to testing efforts as an extension of his studies in public health and infectious disease.
For Crandell, work offers a much-needed break from the stresses of academic life during the pandemic and offers a rare opportunity for socialization.
“It is a time when I am not in my room, can’t be on my phone and am not in class,” Crandell said. “I get the chance to see people and have informal conversations.”
Similarly, Brian Frost ‘24, felt that partaking in prevention efforts gives him a sense of purpose. “Unfortunately this pandemic has no end in sight, so I wanted to help the school with our mission,” he said.
Unlike some of his peers, Frost wasn’t worried about the risks to his personal health that come along with the job. “I knew what I was singing up for,” he said.
Maddie Thorn ’23, who worked at a COVID recovery unit in her hometown over the summer, said that the biggest hiccup has been adjusting to being a student employee amongst the adults she works alongside.
As more students are getting vaccinated, Frost has noted there has been a change in the dynamic of students on campus. He mentioned interacting with a number of people who have been vaccinated and come to the testing sites asking if they still need to be tested.
“While more students being vaccinated is helpful for herd immunity purposes, it also may be encouraging some people to think they’re invincible, which is not the case in this population,” Frost said.
Thorn has observed similar behaviors amongst students this semester who have many situational questions regarding exposure to COVID. “In general, people seem to be more nervous when they come in,” Thorn said.
Thorn has noticed more people walking around campus without masks and bending rules here and there which is where she believes risk pops up.
“I came back to campus this semester thinking everything would be better than how unpredictable it was back home, but now seeing that it’s unpredictable here as well is worrisome,” Frost said.