Colleges in the 2021-2022 Academic Year & Coronavirus (Part 2)

How quickly test results are given also matters. If it takes two days to get test results, then testing is kind of like theater in that a presymptomatic or asymptomatic spreader could have been spreading virus for the two days before being notified that they are a spreader (or they may have started to feel sick anyway after two days).

If there were daily instant tests, then a person could test each morning and be alerted of being an asymptomatic spreader immediately, so as not to go where they will spread the virus, and can pre-emptively seek medical care before feeling sick.


Absolutely true, that the speed of test results matters. At my kids’ school, results have always been less than 24 hours, most typically less than 12, and that’s pcr testing. I’ve mostly heard from friends that their kids’ schools have approximately 24 hours or less (some rapid tests, some pcr), with turnaround improving over the course of the year. But if it takes, for example, 2 days to get results, but you do them every 2 days, the worst is you will have 4 day old results. If you take them every 7 days, you might have 9 day old results, so increased frequency helps regardless, I would think.

ETA : Well, my wording is funny. I don’t mean 9 day old results. What I mean is , if the first day you would test positive is a Monday, but you aren’t due for another test until the next Sunday, and you don’t get the results until Tuesday, you will get the results 8-9 days after when you would have first tested positive. That gives you a lot of chances to spread the virus before knowing you’re positive.

But also, yes, I was always a fan of Michael Mina’s concept of $1 daily cheap tests. Alas, the year had gone on with that idea going nowhere…

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A 12-24 hour turnaround time still gives a presymptomatic spreader a day to unknowingly spread virus before being informed of the result.

Yes, a 12 hour turnaround does mean you could do some damage in that timeframe. But if you had just tested negative 2 days ago, you are presumably not infectious or barely infectious at that point (especially since these are more sensitive pcr tests, so pick up cases pretty early), and much less likely to cause spread. But I do not disagree that shorter turnarounds are better. My point had much more to do with the frequency of testing. That taking tests every 2 days is much better than every 7 days. Even if it’s 2 days plus 12 hours vs 7 days plus 12 hours, or if it’s 2 days plus 24 hours vs. 7 days plus 24 hours, whatever…regardless of the test results turnaround, increased frequency will reduce the opportunity for spread.

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Not so sure about that… consider a possible (and probably common) time line:

Day 0: initial infection
Day 1: viral load too low to be detected
Day 2: viral load too low to be detected
Day 3: would test positive, potential spreader
Day 4: would test positive, most contagious stage
Day 5: would test positive, most contagious stage
Day 6: feel sick

If tests every two days occur on days 0, 2, and 4, with a 12 hour turnaround time, then the person could have two days of unknowing spreading before being informed that they may have COVID-19.

I have read that the first day you would test positive on a sensitive pcr test, you would not be infectious yet. It would take another day or two to test positive on a rapid test, by which time you would be becoming infectious. So I would change your timeline for PCR tests to be:
Day 0: initial infection
Day 1: viral load too low to be detected by PCR
Day 2: viral load too low to be detected by rapid test, may test positive by PCR
Day 3: would test positive by PCR, probably not yet on rapid, possibly becoming a spreader
Day 4: would test positive by any method, most contagious
Day 5: would test positive by any method, most contagious
Day 6: feel sick

But under all circumstances, whether the person can have 0 hours, 12 hours, or 48 hours of walking around contagious (I believe it’s 0 hours if using pcr tests with every-2-day-testing and 12 hour turnaround), it will be considerably LESS time walking around contagious on average than if you test every 7 days…

Respectfully disagree that the epidemiologist would be “wrong.” It’s great that testing was easy at your DC’s school, but a lot depends on desired levels of accuracy, the process of administration, the turnaround of results, and what they are being used for. Students didn’t self-swab at UChicago - it was done completely by professionals. So there is one difference. Perhaps one good swab administered by a healthcare professional is worth three by the student quickly getting this done so he/she could get to class! :grin: My son commented that being one of the first in the morning was like they reached up into your brain, so it was thorough. Another difference is that testing had a one-day turnaround, not six. A third is that the mandatory testing for undergrads on campus was part of, not separate from, the overall sentinel surveillance program which included the voluntary component from off-campus: undergrads, grad students, faculty and staff. All participants - regardless of whether you lived in the dorms, lived off-campus, were an undergraduate, or grad student, or faculty or other university employee - showed up at regularly assigned times every week, had the same procedure administered by the same trained professionals, etc. It’s considered to be a pretty cohesive community overall - the university describes it as having a “common intellectual mission” - regardless of your year. So everyone was treated the same; they didn’t have different rules for undergrads vs. grad students. Finally, the campus was open to everyone, including those living off-campus. EVERYONE was invited to and had access to campus this past academic year because the university considered that to be crucial to the academic mission of the university - excluding some groups in favor of others was discarded as contrary to that mission.

One point that the epidemiologist drove home was that the behavior of the virus will depend on student population and culture, living situations, and locale of the campus. So what works for one school might not work for another. But I’d argue that the thinking at the top can also be pretty distinct by institution. UChicago framed everything in terms of its academic mission; no compromises there. Sticking to the academic mission meant bringing everyone back to campus and maximizing learning for everyone who showed up (not everyone opted to, of course). Maximizing learning meant minimizing disruptions - including not shutting down the entire campus, or keeping shut-downs and isolations as localized as possible. That meant designing and introducing a large-scale, consistent and reliable testing system that everyone could have access to (and which is mandatory for those living on campus). That meant using the same professionals employing the same techniques to test the same people week after week . . . which, obviously meant that it had to be made as convenient as possible for all participants (many of whom were volunteers). So thinking through the reasons behind the 1x per week testing, it’s pretty clear that they did give it a ton of thought and the result, not surprisingly, differs from “what others are doing.” Including what was done at your child’s school. Not that the latter is “worse” - it worked for that school. It might not have worked at UChicago, and vice versa.

Actually, I disagree with that as well, and have conversed with a few parents who have “caught on” - it’s no big deal, I just explain the correct way to do the calculation. Most can multiply by three. Many parents, however, just glance at the numbers, marvel at how close to zero they are, and move on. Covid is practically wiped out on campus! Of course that’s not the case - it’s an infectious virus. One thing not previously mentioned is that the university might also be testing more frequently to appease the surrounding community. I know that was the case for at least one large private that imposed 3x/week testing. One can’t really fault the university for that, especially if it means they get to open up.

This is where the university’s surveillance system should be able to kick into high gear. I’ve noticed that sometimes very frequent testing takes the place of better surveillance. However, it might come down to the university’s own resources or expertise with infectious disease.

Just a little aside, I think you were just joking around , but certainly having hired staff perform tests once a week is not equivalent to having college student test themselves three times a week. As a professional nasal swabber :joy:, but actually I am…I can tell you I feel so sorry for all those people who suffered with overly aggressive testers that pushed the swab way up towards the brain…it’s actually unnecessary (and in many cases could discourage people from returning for more testing, which is such a shame). Kids doing the tests themselves is totally fine and gets just as accurate results…if they fail to do it properly and gather enough of a sample, it does NOT come back as a negative (or, false negative), it comes back as an incomplete. If you get a positive or negative result back, it was sufficiently thorough. Incompletes are quite rare, but I know on campuses, they require/trigger a re-test. The Broad Institute, which is analyzing pcr tests for a slew of Northeastern colleges, has performed over 17 million tests with less than 0.5% coming back incomplete/invalid. So I bring this up as a PSA…if anyone is going to a testing site where it is not self-administered, and the person is jamming it WAY up your nose very unpleasantly, you can assert with confidence that it isn’t necessary! Note: early on in the pandemic, there were long nasopharyngeal swabs used which actually do take fluid from the back of your nose (people referred to these tests as brain-ticklers), and those are used for special reasons occasionally now, but most tests used since the fall are designed differently and use a shorter nasal swab (mid-turbinate swab) to get a sample, and it does not benefit from going exceedingly high up your nose. No torture required!


This was helpful and interesting info! Thanks for sharing it!!!


Oh that could be - I’ve heard that happening elsewhere. I like that a professional nasal swabber is promoting their own professional demise LOL.

I don’t think anyone needs to worry about “unnecessary” thoroughness being a discouragement to getting tested at the university - the program has been uncontroversially supported and of all the feedback that the university received from autumn quarter (suggesting areas of improvement), requesting a more comfortable nasal swab didn’t make that list. Maybe everyone was used to the torture. Or they used the shorter swabs over time. My son’s comment was early on (he also mentioned that if you go at the end of the day they barely take any. So maybe it’s the time of day impacting degree of torture). The big advantage to having a professional swabber, of course, is that the sample is taken under a conrolled environment and that’s important for test integrity. As the year progressed, UCM could revisit (or revise, if needed) their priors on testing frequency and other protocols.

UCM was also doing more than just testing and re-testing undergrads; they were very involved with monitoring the progress of the virus in the surrounding community outside the university. All testing and other stacked protocols were part of an overall approach within the south side community - AND they were attempting to fully re-open an urban university in the midst of a pandemic. There was little precedent for that, if any.

Yep, all good points, thank you.

Our PCR tests for my daughter’s school come back same day within hours. The contract tracing is amazing and they have done extensive tracing beyond what is actually recommended. Cases have been very low all year and whether someone wants to say more tests means lower positivity rate which is funny since so many people generally think more testing is why some places have more positives, I find it ironic that now it’s more testing means a lower test positivity rate. I guess some people will find justification for everything but bottom line is regardless of the percent the actual case count at the school is low. They nipped it in the bud the minute the found the cases. Frequent testing, caught it quickly and prevented the school from every having to go on lockdown of any sort. Classes all year have been hybrid, in person with some remote. It’s definitely not perfect by any means but it’s reassuring and my kid doesn’t have to be holed up somewhere and I don’t have to be worried about her being safe because of someone else’s poor choices. Her school also set up their own testing lab, performed pool testing which is part of the reason they were able to get results so quickly, performing something like 6k tests a day of students and faculty. Kids are out and about going to classes and what not with many testing sites including at some of the buildings that house dining halls so it’s pretty easy to get the tests. I think it’s hard to envision if you don’t have a kid going through this process. My other daughter her school only has proactive testing and it’s basically on you if you want to get tested. This semester they made it more difficult for students to get tested so some have less of an incentive but even vaccinated she regularly goes. The vaccine as we know is not 100% (no vaccine is) and masks are not 100% so better to be safe than sorry, especially when she has traveled to see family, etc.

Beginning to hear rumblings that it is going to be stricter for my son’s school next year where he will be a freshman and nothing makes me happier. Until a few weeks ago, it wasn’t looking too good there.

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Received an email from the President of Hamilton College. All students will be required to be vaccinated for the 2021-2022 school year. Exceptions will be made for religious and medical reasons. Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. They will resume a normal, pre-Covid academic calendar. They are not planning on offering a remote learning option.


That’s great that they are specifically stating no remote options.

Our calendar looks back to normal for next year too, fall break, normal winter vacation, winter break, spring break etc. Hope it pans out because it’ll be fantastic to have that all back to normal.


Our state flagship won’t be mandating the vaccine at least while it’s still EUA, pursuant to state law. Our state also has a medical/philosophical exception to vaccines at all grade levels, including post-secondary and including private and public institutions. While two well-known private colleges here recently announced a vaccine requirement, they will need - and plan - to allow for those exceptions, provided that the proper notarized documentation has been submitted by the deadline, as required by the state health dept. Also, both colleges have applied the vaccine requirement to everyone on campus, including faculty and staff, and not just the students.

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Don’t you live in Minnesota? I apologize if I’m wrong. But it looks like 3 schools are mandating the vaccine.

I was perusing the list today and I noticed that it’s not just Macalester and Carleton. Of course if not Minnesota then that would make sense then.

That list is getting bigger and bigger and I admit I’m even surprised that there are now more than half of states with at least 1 school mandating it. I think only 20 states have no schools. The amount of public schools is even surprising. Another week down. It will be interesting after the final deadlines for commitment next week if more announce, which I don’t really think is fair if schools are waiting for that to announce, but I guess it’s no different than schools last year saying “we’re opening in person” then “not”. One of ours has today already changed to say certain courses that were going to be remote are now not going to be. So that’s a positive change.

Nope - only two I know of, with several more - public and private - stating that there were no plans at this time. Of course, that could change if/when the FDA removes the vaccine from EUA.

I did notice a list that incorrectly attributed a third school actually located in another state. That’s the risk of compiling lists w/o double-checking. I’d be a bit wary of relying on such lists for the data.

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Culver-Stockton is in Missouri, while Carleton and Macalester are in Minnesota, so it is not clear how this matches up with the statements about more colleges in Minnesota requiring COVID-19 vaccination.

Macalester does allow personal belief exemptions ( Medical/Non-medical Exemption Form - Google Docs ) so vaccine opponents can easily avoid the requirement (although on the form, they acknowledge that they may be required to quarantine if exposed to some disease).