Students report being unable to obtain rapid COVID-19 tests

Amid reports of professors and students testing positive for COVID-19 and having to quarantine, some classes have moved online temporarily and Student Health allegedly ran out of rapid tests.

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Truman McDaniel

Martha Ingram statue, as photographed on Sept. 6, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Katherine Oung, Staff Writer

As of print, the Vanderbilt Student Health Center is temporarily not offering rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, per students who attempted to obtain a test. Shortages at Student Health come amid a Nashville-wide shortage of the rapid test.

While specific positivity rates are not known, several students and professors have reported positive tests, leading several classes to be canceled or to change format.

Student Health Center and Isolation Housing

Until Student Health receives more rapid COVID-19 tests, they have been offering polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to Vanderbilt students. Student Health deferred their response to The Hustler’s request for comment to the News and Public Affairs Office, which has not immediately responded. 

The rapid COVID-19 test, which is currently unavailable, is not performed in a lab setting and thus results can be reported in as little as 15 minutes. The PCR test, which Student Health is currently administering, must be sent to a lab, increasing turnaround time to around 24 hours. 

Per an Aug. 30 MyVU article, students waiting for the results of their COVID-19 test are required to either shelter in place in their room or be moved to quarantine housing until they receive their test result, a decision made by the Office of Housing and Residential Education (OHARE) depending on their living situation. 

A junior kept anonymous for health privacy reasons, who lives with two roommates in a suite, initially went to Student Health on the morning of  Sept. 1 to get tested for strep throat but was additionally given a PCR COVID-19 test. They received an email from the OHARE that day, telling them to quarantine in Blakemore House while awaiting their results.

“They were out of the rapid antigen test,” the anonymous junior said. “The doctor said they didn’t have reagent left in the entire city.” 

First-year Samuel Lu, who lives in a double, went to Student Health in the middle of the day on Sept. 1. He also received a PCR COVID-19 test and was asked to quarantine in Blakemore House.

On the morning of Sept. 2, first-year Natalie Dimov, who lives in a double, and junior Ross Ruben, who lives with a roommate off campus, visited Student Health after exhibiting symptoms and received a PCR COVID-19 test because Student Health was still out of rapid tests. 

However, unlike the anonymous junior and Lu, Dimov and Ruben were told to shelter in place in their room until they received their test results and did not move into quarantine housing.

The current occupancy of Blakemore quarantine and isolation housing is not publicized. Vanderbilt has also not provided a dashboard with positivity rates and testing numbers as they did during the 2020-21 school year. A university spokesperson stated there are plans for an updated dashboard and an announcement will be made when the plans are finalized.

“The development of a new system for reporting numbers is being developed,” a response from the COVID-Questions email inquiry from a student reads. “The campus community will be communicated with once it’s finalized.”

The university announced on Aug. 30 they will be changing their COVID-19 testing policy to include “small scale random testing.” A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on the details of this program.

Asymptomatic testing is not offered at the Student Health Center. Student Health currently offers PCR COVID-19 testing on a walk-in basis Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CDT, as well as on Saturdays throughout September from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m CDT. A walk-in test includes clinical evaluation by a medical professional.

Changes to classes amid positive cases

The Hustler obtained emails from three professors in Peabody School of Education and Human Development and two professors from the College of Arts and Science. The professors stated they were temporarily altering their class and CASPAR advising session procedures by moving online or redesigning in-person sessions, in response to COVID-19 exposure or a positive test. 

Other professors have started to offer virtual options or other alternatives for students with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result. The Hustler obtained messages from some professors detailing that students were not allowed to attend class virtually if in quarantine. Other professors stated that they could only conduct one virtual class if they tested positive and had to quarantine. And others

“I found out through an email the day before class,” sophomore Omotayo Fasan said. “I wasn’t surprised that my class was going to be on Zoom given the lack of testing of vaccinated students, learning that the dining capacity has been reduced and knowing that many people are not wearing their masks properly inside and are going out.” 

The university did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about these policies.

Rapid test availability in Nashville

Per an Aug. 20 WSMV-TV article, Nashville doctors are reporting low or no stock of rapid tests amid the start of the academic school year, as well as rising cases of the delta variant.

“Hospitals, clinics, emergency department, urgent cares, are all having to go back to the send-out testing that we were doing early in 2020,” Nashville pediatrician Dr. Jim Keffer said in an interview with WSMV-TV. “Until about two weeks ago we could do as many rapid tests as we wanted. But you could only manufacture so much of anything.”

Students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral fellows with mild symptoms or confirmed exposure can visit VUMC’s Vanderbilt One Hundred Oaks Clinic to be tested seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. CDT. Similar to Student Health, the clinic is currently only offering PCR COVID-19 tests. Per VUMC representative Craig Boerner, One Hundred Oaks Clinic currently does not offer rapid testing.

After hours, students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral fellows can visit a VUMC My Health Walk-In Clinic to receive a COVID-19 test and a clinical evaluation. Walk-In Clinics are found at 11 Walgreens locations across Nashville and are currently offering PCR COVID-19 tests and limited rapid tests.

Asymptomatic students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral fellows who may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tested at the Vanderbilt Testing Center in the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center auxiliary gym from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. CDT on Mondays and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. CDT Tuesday-Thursday. 

As of Aug. 23, unvaccinated individuals in the Vanderbilt community have been required to participate in weekly testing at the Rec. The Rec offers the PCR COVID-19 test only.

Charlotte Mauger contributed reporting to this piece.