VCU considers change to COVID-19 testing eligibility

Infographic by Raymond Liu

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

When sophomore Kristin Townsend heard a friend of hers had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, she asked VCU to be tested for the virus. Townsend was shocked when a VCU Health representative told her they would not be testing her.

“I was kind of confused and taken aback by how they were just like ‘you’re a contact of a contact of someone who has COVID-19, you don’t need to be tested,’” the health, physical education and exercise sciences major said.

Townsend searched online for COVID-19 testing sites in the Richmond area and found CVS Pharmacy offered the service for free. After getting tested and quarantining for two to three days, Townsend received positive test results.

As required for students who live on campus, Townsend notified VCU of her positive status. The university then placed her in isolation housing for 10 days. She was released after being asymptomatic for seven days. 

“They took care of me while I was in isolation, but it was confusing, so I’m glad I took the safety precautions that I did,” Townsend said.

VCU is considering adopting an at-will testing program that would allow asymptomatic students and employees to be tested for COVID-19 at an undetermined fee, according to a university spokesperson.

Thomas Gresham, director of news operations for VCU, said the university is evaluating its testing capacity to determine if at-will testing is possible.

Students are eligible for free testing from VCU if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or if they came into close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. 

Gresham said in an email that the university follows the Virginia Department of Health’s guidelines regarding what qualifies as close contact. 

According to the VDH, anyone who has been closer than six feet for at least 15 minutes to someone who has COVID-19 may be exposed to the virus. Exposure may also occur via coughing, sneezing, kissing, and sharing utensils and drinks.

VCU refers close contacts to VCU Health for testing. Gresham said in an email that even if a close contact tests negative, they are required to quarantine for 14 days after their last exposure. 

Junior photography and film major Kayleigh MacDonald said she was denied a test by VCU because she had not established direct contact with a potential positive case. 

Out of concern that she had been exposed to someone with the virus, MacDonald said she called the university’s COVID-19 hotline and scheduled a telehealth appointment with a nurse. She was then told she was not eligible for a test. 

“I was sort of expecting them to be more willing to test,” MacDonald said. “They asked us to come back to school during a pandemic.”

MacDonald’s contact ended up testing negative, so MacDonald did not seek testing from outside the university. 

There are many COVID-19 testing sites in the Richmond and Henrico area for people with or without insurance. Some require an appointment ahead of time, and others offer walk-up testing. You can find an extensive list on the VDH’s website.

At-will COVID-19 testing locations include: 

  • Patient First, 12 N. Thompson St.
  • West Grace Health Center, 517 W. Grace St.
  • CVS Minute Clinic, 3514 W. Cary St.
  • Hamilton Health Center of Richmond, VA, 201 N. Hamilton St.
  • Walgreens, 2924 Chamberlayne Ave.

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