In preparation for the return to Grounds in the fall, Dean of Students Allen Groves sent an email to all students Monday morning with information about ordering free COVID-19 test kits. The University announced last month that all students would be required to submit a self-administered COVID-19 viral PCR test before returning to Grounds.
An update was made Tuesday about delaying in-person classes and the opening of undergraduate residential halls by two weeks, but according to Groves and University spokesperson Brain Coy, the two announcements were unrelated. All classes will begin online Aug. 25, but in-person classes will now begin Sept. 8, giving students additional time to get their test results in before resuming on-Grounds learning.
Due to the high number of people attempting to order at the same time, the website experienced technical issues during its initial operation. Many students received error messages and were unable to access the website to place their order. Rhode Island, New Jersey and Alaska were not listed as possible shipping locations, so students from those states worried that they wouldn’t be able to get their test kits.
Although she has been in Charlottesville all summer, rising fourth-year College student Ingrid Kenyon is returning home to Rhode Island in about a week to see family before the semester begins. She was hoping to complete the test kit in Rhode Island to ensure that it would be safe for her to return to her immunocompromised roommate.
“I was bewildered at not being able to find Rhode Island listed as an option, and upon investigation saw that both New Jersey and Alaska were missing as well,” Kenyon said. “My immediate concern was that those of us from these states would not all have access to testing before returning to Grounds, which would pose a risk not only to the University community but also to the greater Charlottesville area.”
The issues were the result of glitches on the website. After receiving multiple reports from students, the University was able to respond in a timely manner and resolve the issues.
“[Monday] morning, we discovered two glitches in our third-party vendor’s student sign-up website,” Groves said to The Cavalier Daily. “Both were reported by students. The first was a load issue — a few students were unable to access the site immediately due to high volume, but it was quickly resolved. The second was that New Jersey and Rhode Island weren’t shown as options to select, but that was immediately fixed when students reported this issue to us.”
The email strongly encouraged students to place their orders by the end of the day Aug. 5 to ensure that the kits would be shipped on time. The kits are delivered to students’ home addresses within 48 hours. Upon receiving the mail-in test kit, students have to answer a few personal health questions and then collect a nasal sample by using a nasal swab, which detects traces of the virus’ genetic material in infected individuals. Afterwards, the sample is delivered back to the lab within 24 to 48 hours, and results are usually released online within 24 to 72 hours. However, minor delays may occur due to current circumstances.
Many students were also concerned about having a recommended time window of two days to order and receive their kits before the start of the semester.
“I worry about the students who do not regularly check their school email over the summer who will miss this memo and run out of time,” Kenyon said. “While I'm glad the problem regarding the states was quickly rectified, the haphazard nature of these measures makes me concerned about how the University will implement and enforce safety procedures as the semester moves forward.”
Students who plan to live or learn either on Grounds or in the Charlottesville or Albemarle County area are required to provide their test result to the University at least seven days prior to their arrival.
According to Coy, about 6,000 students successfully requested tests within the first 3 hours of the announcement. As of Wednesday morning, 15,000 students have requested tests from the website.
After Wednesday, the test kit website will still remain open for orders. Students only need to present a test result prior to their arrival on Grounds. If they haven’t received a test result by the time the semester starts, they can begin their classes online and then return for in-person classes once they have the result.
“If a student tests positive with the testing kit or a test offered by another provider, the student doesn’t need to wait to test negative to return to Grounds,” Groves said. “Rather, they must self-isolate.”
According to guidance from Student Health, students must self-isolate for 10 days after either receiving a positive test or having symptoms of fever for at least 24 hours. They will then have to complete an attestation form on the Student Health patient portal in order to receive clearance to return to Grounds.
Students under 18 are restricted from ordering from the website. In addition to requiring parental consent, they have to participate in a televisit — a virtual meeting with a healthcare provider — in order to get tested. Test kits cannot be shipped internationally, so international students will only receive their test kits upon arriving in the U.S.
While a 14-day self-quarantine is required for students returning from abroad, the University strongly recommends that all students regardless of where they are coming from self-quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to Grounds.