MU to require negative COVID-19 test for on-campus students before spring semester

MU says students living off-campus are “strongly encouraged” to be tested before arriving on campus in January.

In an email sent to students Tuesday afternoon, MU announced students living in Residential Life housing will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus for the spring semester. Testing is highly recommended for students living off-campus.

According to the email, students are encouraged to get tested no sooner than five days before arriving in Columbia. MU will accept PCR or rapid antigen viral tests, but not antibody tests. Students who fail to comply with the new policy could be asked to leave campus-sponsored housing.

Students who cannot get a test before arrival can sign up for testing in Columbia upon return. These tests will be free for undergraduate students and will be billed to insurance companies or covered for students without insurance. MU will set up an alternate testing site for students to complete arrival testing. According to the email, more information about sign-ups for these tests and test verification will be given in the coming weeks.

“We enjoy being on campus and not being at home for so much of our time,” freshman Jillian Voskovitch said. “If we have to get tested before coming back, I think a lot of people would be on board with that if it means we should come back to school in person.”

MU spokesperson Christian Basi said students getting tested in Columbia to meet arrival testing requirements will not have to quarantine while awaiting their results if they are not symptomatic.

“That's another reason why it would be better if a student got tested before they came to the campus, because should they be concerned or should they test positive, then we don't have to utilize the resources and we have them for someone else,” Basi said. “If a student is positive at home, we want them to stay home. We want them to utilize the resources they have with their medical professional and not come to campus until they're clear to do so.”

Residential Life students are expected to receive an email tomorrow asking them to notify MU of their COVID-19 testing plans. This form should be completed by Jan. 4. Students can register for a test on-campus during the week before and the first week of classes. Students who tested positive between Oct. 15 and Jan. 9 do not need to be tested before arrival, but must show documentation of their positive test.

Basi said the university wanted to implement this policy on a small population of students to see if any data can be gathered that is useful for future decisions.

“This is an opportunity for us to try a new option [and] see if we can garner some information that might help us direct our strategies for the opening of the spring semester,” Basi said.

MU declined to implement mass testing across the student body during the fall semester, only testing symptomatic students. Basi said the university’s health experts have emphasized changing student behavior instead of a mass testing approach.

“What we have come to find out in this past semester is that behavior was a key factor in limiting the spread,” Basi said.

Some universities, like the University of Illinois, have tested their students twice a week and require students to present their negative test to gain access to buildings. U of I saw a peak in cases on Aug. 31, with 230 cases and a 2.86% positivity rate. Their case numbers declined throughout the rest of the semester.

“I definitely think that the policy for the upcoming semester is very necessary and I wish we did that coming into the school year,” Voskovitch said.

Arrival testing was not required when MU students moved on campus in the fall. MU also saw an increase in cases at the beginning of the fall semester, with a peak of 683 active cases on Sept. 5. MU does not provide a student positivity rate on their COVID-19 dashboard. Cases decreased throughout the month of September and remained steady during the rest of the semester. The university reported 52 active student cases on Dec. 21.

While the arrival testing policy was not required by MU health experts or the Boone County health department, Basi said future policy changes could be implemented based on the results.

“As we were discussing getting ready for the spring semester, we thought we would take this as an opportunity to try this new tool and see what happens,” Basi said.

Edited by Sophie Chappell | schappell@themaneater.com

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