Over fall break, I travelled to beautiful Branson, Missouri. My days were spent reading by the lakeside, wandering through a historic downtown and enjoying the tremendous views that the Ozarks offer. On Tuesday night, after a six hour drive home, I rushed to get tested minutes before the COVID-19 testing site by my dorm closed.
I have been getting tested every week since I arrived on campus. During move-in, everyone else got tested, too. Students, staff and faculty completed a round of re-entry testing to ensure the safety of our campus and Lincoln community. But after that first week, the testing requirement fell only to those that were not vaccinated or had not uploaded their vaccination card. Last week, hundreds — possibly even thousands — of other students returned to campus from all over the country, just as they had in August. With no re-entry testing and no regular testing of vaccinated students — despite a growing number of breakthrough cases — I have come to the conclusion that the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s COVID-19 testing policies are insufficient.
Students at UNL come from all over the country: all 50 states and the District of Columbia. By October, it is understandable that students want a break from Lincoln, Nebraska. So some students went home. Some students — like me — took a much needed vacation. Students dispersed all over the country. Approximately 2,577 out-of-state undergraduate students are within a six hour drive of their home state. An additional 14,064 undergraduates call Nebraska home. A vast majority of these students likely went home. With this many students returning to campus, another round of re-entry testing would be the responsible thing to do. It is baffling that there was not any required testing to return to business as usual.
There was a small rise in positive test rates in the days following fall break. But these are only cases reported from tests taken almost exclusively by unvaccinated students or students who have not uploaded their vaccination records.
A large study of over 4 million vaccinated people over the course of this year found about 1 in 5,000 will contract a breakthrough case. However, some populations have shown a rate of 1 in 100. What this shows is that we don’t know for certain how likely a breakthrough COVID-19 case is.
What we do know is that vaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19 can still spread the virus. If a vaccinated person contracted COVID-19, they would likely experience no worse than a moderate case. But they could still infect someone who maybe was unable to get vaccinated or someone who remains high-risk.
Perhaps most importantly, UNL has a responsibility to do everything possible to protect everyone on campus and in the larger Lincoln community. The university’s guiding framework for the fall semester sought to “create a culture of safety and health across our campuses.” A culture of safety means consistent testing to be fully informed on the impact of COVID-19 on our campus. Weekly testing for everyone would be a precautionary measure more than anything. But it is a precaution that should be taken.
Vaccines haven’t ended the pandemic. They are effective, and everyone who is able to should get vaccinated. But the illusion that vaccines completely protect from contracting or spreading the virus is dangerous. For the benefit of everyone in our community — students, professors and local Lincolnites — UNL should be willing to make the commitment to weekly COVID-19 testing for everyone.
We’re all fatigued by the pandemic. I can’t wait for the day I no longer have to keep track of my mask. I can’t wait for the day my grandma doesn’t have to be worried about coming to visit me. But that day has not come. Right now is the time to be doing everything we can to continue to protect the community we belong to.
As a student, I shouldn’t have to worry about testing or other safety policies. Those more experienced and qualified than I, who claim to have my best interests in mind, should alleviate that worry. They should consider the risk of infected students returning to campus. They should consider the risk of breakthrough cases.
Maybe they have considered them. But then why do I still feel at risk?
Megan Buffington is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.