Vanderbilt Covid Testing

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Vanderbilt Covid Testing

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This photo is a screenshot of an email that I received during the Fall 2020 semester at Vanderbilt University. Throughout the semester, I received many emails that looked exactly like that one. The email is proof of a negative Covid test result, which every Vanderbilt student had to receive each week during the fall semester in order to remain living in their dorm. If a student tested positive, they would be taken from their dorm into quarantine housing. For some context, in March of 2020, all Vanderbilt students were sent home early due to the coronavirus. From March onward through the summer, Vanderbilt students worried about their fate as students. Would we be allowed to return to Nashville in the fall? Would we be subjected to more online “college”, trapped in our childhood bedrooms? This anxiety physically ate away at me, keeping me in a constant state of unease. When we finally heard that we would be coming back to campus, it felt as though an immense, invisible weight had been released from my shoulders. We were told, however, that there would be restrictions to college life. At that moment, I did not care an ounce. I would happily take any variation of college, as long as I would be able to live on campus. One of my major stressors entering that year was that we would be kicked off campus a second time. Callous students loudly proclaimed that this was inevitable, there would be no way that we would last this upcoming year. Comments like this brought the anxiety right back to the pit of my stomach. As a student who was going to be living on campus, what would I do if I was kicked off? Where would I go? I did not even want to think about that as a possibility. But that was the energy that charged the air at Vanderbilt that year: there was a fear and a deep distrust that Vanderbilt would stay open.
One of the key differences between this year and other years at Vanderbilt was the weekly Covid testing (In the spring semester, the Covid testing was twice weekly). Students were required to enroll in times in their schedule when they would trek over to the Rec, or the large gym on campus, to spit in a tube. At the beginning of the year, I would go with my friends during our allotted time. We soon learned, however, that it did not really matter when you went, as long as went sometime during the week. While this was in some ways comical, to walk into the Rec center, with pop music blaring, and spit alongside your college peers, there was something stressful about it as well. It was like constantly turning yourself in; if you did have the misfortune of having Covid, you had willingly given yourself over for the school to come and take you away. Especially at the beginning, fear of Covid was rampant. Even if you felt fine, a scratchy throat may seem like your doom. At the beginning of the semester especially, waiting for the emailed results felt like eternity. And we all knew what would happen to people who tested positive, or those unfortunate enough to be contact traced: they were shipped off in a golf cart for everyone to see, and were banished from the rest of campus. But this was worth it, all of it was worth it for us. The stress of getting tested and the fear of being quarantined was a miniscule price to pay for being able to be on campus, with our friends. It was an escape from our summers of restriction. Or at least, it was for me. And for that, I give Vanderbilt tremendous credit for opening and following through successfully with the covid-testing of all the students each week.

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This item was submitted on September 12, 2021 by Hannah R using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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