By Isabella Davitt
On the first Friday of September, only five days into the Fall 2020 semester, 1,409 Saint Michael’s College students lined up outside of the Tarrant Recreation Center, waiting to get tested for COVID-19. As the campus waits for the results from the second round of testing, the results from the first are still raising questions for some people in the community.
The test, a nasal swab RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as having a long swab shoved up your nose to scrape what feels like the back of your brain. It was a simple swab of the nostril. Some students said it was so simple, comfortable, and almost too easy that they began to question its accuracy and its ability to detect the COVID-19 virus.
A quick 36 hours later, test results began to roll out. Students were notified via email but then had to complete what some considered a frustrating process to create an account in order to view their test results. Negative after negative, students began to wonder when the first positive case would appear, but it never did.
Sunday morning, the Saint Michael’s College community received an email from President Lorraine Sterritt that stated, “I am very happy to let you know that we have received the test results for the 1,409 students whom we tested on Friday, and there were no positive cases!”
For many students and staff, this came as a surprise. “I was surprised to hear that we had zero cases. I was expecting a couple of positives because people were coming from all over the country, so I thought there would be at least one or two people,” said Connor Scott ’23. Other students also wondered how accurate the test was and whether or not it could be trusted.
“It’s funny that people question the accuracy because the test was so comfortable, they almost wanted the more uncomfortable test,” said Mary Masson, Director of Bergeron Wellness Center.
“I have really high confidence in our tests, they are highly specific and reliable,” Masson said. “The lab that we use, The Broad Institute, is one of the best labs in the country.” The Broad Institute, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has taken on a large role in COVID-19 testing across colleges and universities throughout the US, Masson said. They are responsible for analyzing the tests of over 130 colleges, including Saint Michael’s College and they have the capacity to run 35-50 thousand tests a day.
“I could tell by the numbers coming in from UVM which were quite low given their large population that we would have some colleges that might even have zero. So it was exciting,” said Deputy Health Commissioner, Tracy Dolan. UVM currently has 10 cases, Middlebury, two, and Norwich, four.
“It has been our goal at the Department of Health primarily to protect the public health but also to continue to support the activities that make people healthy, and for young people, that’s having routines, going back to school, going to work, whatever it is, and so we wanted to support that as safely as possible,” (Dolan).
Amidst the doubts that many had about students returning to campus, eager to party and socialize, most students have been following the protocols to wash hands, wear masks, keep a six-foot physical distance, and take care of each other.