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The University of Maine should be able to provide free testing for all students and faculty

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the country, and have reached an all time high here in Maine, it is nearly impossible to ignore the United States’ inadequate and, if we’re being honest, lazy response to the pandemic. I cannot help but constantly consider what we all could be doing differently in order to move past this awful virus. More testing seems like such a simple solution, yet after nearly nine months of madness, there is not even a consistent testing site in Orono. 

The fact of the matter is that more testing would help to decrease the spread of the virus, and if testing was more easily available, more people would be getting tested. This is exactly why the University of Maine should have a site that makes asymptomatic testing available to all students and faculty, any time, for free. 

An article from Elissa Nadwordy and Sean McMinn for NPR helps to drive home the argument for more testing on college campuses. “Frequent and rapid testing of large numbers of students is the best way to fend off major outbreaks on campuses,” says Nadwordy and McMinn. Up to 40% of people who get COVID-19 virus are asymptomatic, and it is no surprise that these are the people who are notorious for spreading the virus. Of course it is not your fault if you do not present symptoms, but more testing is a way to stop these silent spreaders in their tracks. 

While UMaine has done a decent job at enforcing and regulating random screenings, and they provide information about nearby testing sites here, it is just not enough. And at this stage in the game, all universities should be able to provide free testing for their students and faculty.

As of Sept. 25, The New York Times had linked more than 130,000 coronavirus cases to colleges. In lieu of rising cases on campuses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 testing guidance to advise colleges to perform more testing, but this is not enough. The government needs to not only be providing regulations and guidelines for decreasing the spread of the virus, they also must help institutions implement those guidelines. 

For example, Colby College in Waterville has an extensive COVID-19 response plan that involves an app that makes getting a test incredibly simple, and a regular testing site on campus for students and faculty members. With those measures in place, the college has had incredibly low numbers of positive cases. Granted, Colby is a private institution with much more money to spend, but this is where the government has failed significantly: COVID-19 testing shouldn’t depend on how much money you have to throw at it. It should be widely available and free for anyone who needs it. 

The issue with testing extends far beyond the responses of individual universities, and fingers can be pointed in numerous directions for the root of this issue. But in the midst of a pandemic, all universities should have a testing site on campus, with no exceptions. With symptoms that sometimes don’t even show up, and sometimes reflect those of a standard flu or cold, the virus can walk invisibly among college campuses with no hints of its presence until it’s far too late. Without a vaccine, the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to simply know who has it and who doesn’t. In this way, UMaine, as well as other universities nationwide, have failed their communities by neglecting to prioritize available testing for anyone who wants one. Until widespread testing is available, especially in hotspots like universities, it will be nearly impossible to get ahead of the virus — and stay ahead of it.

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