University offers optional testing to vaccinated students

Jacob Feuerstein, Print Managing Co-Editor

As of Wednesday, Sept. 8, a total of eight active COVID-19 cases on campus have been recorded between faculty, staff and the student body; of the eight, seven are reported to be from the student population. While this number is significantly lower than the University’s previously reported high of 131 cases in the span of a week in February, the lack of testing on campus has raised questions about whether the recorded numbers reflect the true extent of campus infection. Restrictive testing protocols have caused frustration among students, faculty and staff in recent weeks, and the school’s encompassing Union County has seen an uptick in cases in the past 30 days.

Reflecting concerns about the rapid spread of the delta variant among students, University President John Bravman emailed the University community announcing changes broader access to COVID-19 testing on campus for fully vaccinated students and staff and to remind students of the importance of continuing to mask while in public and academic buildings, as well as in the broader Lewisburg community. Per the Sept. 8 correspondence, “[f]ully vaccinated Bucknell employees and students may now schedule up to one COVID-19 test per week at no charge.” This marks a substantial departure from the University’s previous position, where previously only faculty and staff who opted to remain unvaccinated, and students with religious or medical exemptions, were eligible for testing on campus.

Increased access to COVID-19 testing will likely help reveal the true spread of the virus across campus, especially amongst the student body. Professor of English, Michael Drexler, “This change may also allow students, faculty and staff to better understand the risk level of activities like going to the library to study, eating outside with friends, or attending a masked indoor event,” Professor of English Michael Drexler said.

Up to this point, University administrators have received criticism from both students and faculty regarding the unclear COVID guidance issued from the University. Especially in the case of vaccinated students exposed to positive cases, guidance on isolation and testing protocols has been vague where present.

Resulting from these concerns, a photo circulating of the “Bucknell Refresh” Two Friends concert from Aug. 28 prompted response from faculty members, with many expressing their displeasure with the University’s handling of the recent COVID situation. The photo, which displayed upwards of a thousand students, drew ire from the community as many students appeared to be unmasked and indoors. Though the concert was scheduled for the lawn adjacent to Sojka Pavilion, rain forced organizers inside to the indoor venue Gerhard Fieldhouse. “When the university doesn’t act with determination and speed to address breaches in our health protocols, it only adds confusion and further ambivalence about whether any of these measures matter or are just window dressing,” Professor Michael Drexler, an outspoken critic of Refresh, said.

How the University handles indoor events and enforces masking policies this semester will determine its success in dealing with future outbreaks. The severity of COVID outbreaks on campus, in turn, will likely be a major determinant of whether or not the University continues to hold in-person classes and events.

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