VCU isn’t prioritizing student health during the pandemic

Illustration by Erin Jhi

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

Like most American universities, VCU reopened for the fall semester with thousands of cases still flooding through Virginia. The decision behind the university’s reopening was based solely on money, and as a result, no regard for safety was given. 

Student tuition should have been allocated toward accurate COVID-19 tests and mental health resources for students.

VCU took the initiative to test every residential student two weeks prior to move-in using oropharyngeal swab tests, which may have led to false negatives. According to a report by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, these swabs detected COVID-19 less frequently than nasopharyngeal swabs, which are administered through the nose.

According to the report, “oropharyngeal swabs detected the COVID-19 virus less frequently than nasopharyngeal swabs and should not be used in place of nasopharyngeal swabs, particularly from day 8+ of symptom onset.”

Asymptomatic students could receive prevalence testing via throat swab for free after filling out a survey, according to a university release. However, nasal swabs appear to be more accurate. If VCU prioritized its students’ safety, it would have provided better testing under professional supervision.

Students with COVID-19 symptoms are given a free test and referred to University Student Health Services. But testing is not guaranteed for those who are asymptomatic — even if they believe they were exposed to the virus.

With students back on campus and money coming in, VCU should’ve at least invested more into accurate testing and guaranteeing that all students have access.

VCU sends “mandatory” daily health surveys that ask if the student or faculty have had any COVID-19 symptoms, but the university only tracks if students respond to the question — not the response itself. 

“Please note that your responses are not stored in this system or accessible to others,” the survey states. “We will only track whether or not you have responded.”

Although it is labeled as “mandatory,” I know many students who have not been filling it out and have not received repercussions if it isn’t completed.

Above all, VCU has barely touched upon the mental health aspect of what this pandemic has caused. The TelegRAM occasionally features events that are focused on mental health, but only two — “Mental Health Matters: The Black Experience Unplugged” and “Black Mental Health During Periods of Uncertainty” — have been advertised since the semester started.

VCU should not only focus on the physical health of students but also provide extensive mental health resources. Mental health surveys could help the university gauge how students are doing and list professionals that students can contact.

It’s not as though VCU isn’t capable of following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations. Earlier this month, the university decided to cancel all study abroad programs until summer 2021. The decision was supported by CDC guidance. So, I know the university is more than capable of putting its students’ well-being first.

Our safety — as VCU students — depends on how VCU faces the pandemic.

So far, we seem to be unprioritized. VCU should provide more accurate tests throughout campus, take the daily health surveys seriously and invest more in mental health resources for students. Due to the inherently greedy nature of the institution, I am skeptical that VCU will protect my physical and mental health before it protects the money.

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