The inadequacies of Wilson’s COVID testing policy

Louise Reyes-Gavilan

It’s mid afternoon, and the Wilson auditorium is bustling with students spitting into tiny tubes and zipping the full vials in plastic bags. Some will sit alone, awkwardly trying to generate enough spit to reach the required volume, while others spend their time socializing with friends, mumbling about the tedious process. 

In an effort to control COVID cases within the school, Wilson has conducted routine asymptomatic testing each week in a randomized grouping of classes throughout the year. As opposed to the standard nasal swab, students are sent to the auditorium to complete a saliva test. Saliva tests are collected by spitting into a small tube through a funnel until enough is produced and can be tested for the virus. Although science has proven these tests to be accurate, many Wilson students agree on one thing: the testing system itself is not effective. 

COVID testing in schools is necessary in keeping both students and staff safe, but Wilson’s current system does not seem to uphold a general sense of safety within the school. Given that there are other COVID testing methods that are considered more comfortable (which might encourage more students to opt in as testing is currently optional), why, Wilson, hasn’t a new procedure been implemented?

Saliva tests come with a set of strict rules one must follow in order for their test results to be accurate. For example, you can not eat or drink anything up to an hour before the test is administered. With this comes some significant problems.

Sophomore Bronwen Holmes describes the general reluctant attitude towards the tests. “I just used to have a sip of water or start chewing gum so that I could be like ‘Oh, I can’t take it, I’m chewing gum’ because I just didn’t feel comfortable.”

Although some of these eating/drinking restrictions seem to recently have been lifted, it may still impact the validity of the tests.

In addition to this, some students question the sanitary aspect of the tests. Freshman Mimi Miller has openly expressed her discomfort with the testing to her peers. “Not only are they gross but they also make students exposed further to COVID because we all have our masks off for a while in an indoor space trying to get a lot of spit into a tiny vial.” 

She touches on the fact that the process of collecting the samples can be lengthy, and by this point in the pandemic, it is common knowledge that large gatherings indoors without masks lead to inevitable COVID spread. Thus, many students sit out of testing for fear of taking off their masks and catching the virus, which contradicts the purpose of testing in the first place.

According to Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall, the reason why nasal swab testing has not been implemented is because “students and staff can administer the saliva-based testing themselves. It’s self-administered and non-intrusive.”

On the surface this seems to be a logical rationale. Hiring people certified to administer nasal tests could be expensive and make some students uncomfortable. But self-administered nasal tests, or “at home tests” exist as well and are becoming more accessible. The only defense of saliva-based testing over nasal swabs is the fact that they can be self-administered –– but if nasal swabs can come with that feature as well, saliva-based tests prove to only come with disadvantages and are overall less effective than alternative methods. •