Back to campus: Baylor requiring 100% weekly testing

Coronavirus

WACO, Texas (NewsNation Now) — It’s back to school for many college students and every campus has taken a different response to the pandemic.

At Baylor University in Waco, Texas, school leaders said they are taking one of the more aggressive approaches to COVID-19 that they’ve seen — with mandatory weekly testing and consequences for missing them.

Baylor’s sprawling campus is home to about 15,000 students about two hours south of Dallas. The kind of students who just seem happy to be there, especially during the throes of endless rules and changes that a pandemic demands.

“If that’s what keeps us here at school, honestly, I’m OK with it. I’d rather be here than doing school at home all alone,” said freshman Kyndal Bockhahm.

But this semester, the school ramping up its safety standards.  

“Our testing program is inclusive of all students, faculty and staff,” said Dean of Students Dr. Sharra Hynes.

Hynes said the university has pivoted from random testing in the fall to mandatory, weekly tests this spring. Sanctions for skipping are strict.

“The first missed test is basically a grace,” Dr. Hynes said. “The second missed test means they can no longer participate in co-curricular programming. The third missed test means that we will turn off their Wi-Fi access for the remainder of the semester.”

A fourth strike and you could be out for failing to comply with school rules. An assignment that students said they had no choice, but to get on board with quickly.

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“I definitely think it’s a little too harsh. I feel like missing two is kind of reasonable, because you never know what happens throughout a week,” said freshman Gary Winthrope.

“I mainly saw the Wi-Fi thing and was like that’s kind of absurd, they’re going to take away our Wi-Fi? But I mean it’s not that difficult to go in and get tested,” said freshman Callie Gooding.

They’ve turned lawns into temporary testing sites, where every member of the Baylor community checks in for a scheduled swab.

They give people a barcode, they scan it and sanitize hands. They are self-administered nasal testing.

Throughout the day, those samples are taken to a multimillion dollar lab that Baylor built to get results turned around in 24 hours.

NewsNation was given a behind-the-scenes tour with the CEO of MyLabsDirect. Justin Simons’ company was contracted to run the lab. He said his team worked nonstop through the holiday season to prepare for demand.

“We’re averaging 2,700 to 2,800. The high-end I think we did 3,100 one day this week. And then the aim is to basically test between 15,000 and 17,000 lives every single week,” Simons said.

Once the patient’s results are verified, he or she is sent a notification through the testing app on their phone. Baylor choosing the PCR test for accuracy.

“Well PCR is the gold standard and I think that’s why the university made this investment,” he said. “All things considered, it’s extremely accurate. I would say 99% accurate.”

For students who ace the test and stay on top of appointments, they’re given meal vouchers and the chance of a $5,000 grand prize to use toward tuition. Freshmen like Bockhahm said it’s been bearable because she doesn’t know any different.

“Although like our social events are being canceled and we can’t do all the fun things that used to happen on campus, I think that what we are allowed to do especially with the restrictions is a lot more than most people… so I really can’t complain about it,” she said.
 
The dean of students said those consequences are final if you get your Wi-Fi taken away, for example, you won’t be able to have access to it until next semester when testing starts up again.

School officials told NewsNation that Baylor is one of about 20 colleges in the country requiring 100% weekly testing.

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