On the 9th of February, 2021, the Henniker Campus of New England College held mandatory COVID testing for all students living on campus, as well as all students planning to commute and attend in-person classes. In the past, when the school has planned to test large groups of students they have either done it over a span of multiple days, or they have scheduled time blocks for certain groups of students to arrive, in order to ensure the safety of the students, as well as the efficiency of the testing process. On the 9th of February, this was not the case. The following is a log of my personal experience getting tested.
I arrived at the Lyons Building at around 12:25 in the afternoon It was snowing, and there was already a line just to get inside the building. As I waited outside, I began to ponder the irony of the fact that the school outwardly seemed to be prioritizing student health, while simultaneously creating situations where we are forced to wait in inclement weather conditions.
It wasn’t until 12:53 that I was allowed to enter the foyer of the building. Inside I saw Stan Horton, Director of Student Conduct, and I asked him A.) why all the testing was occurring on one day, and B.) why there were not scheduled blocks of time for certain groups of students to arrive for testing? He refused to comment.
At 12:59 I entered the building and I was sent to the second floor, where I stood in line to get my temperature taken. The actual taking of temperatures was occurring by the front door where I had just entered, but the line for that extended all the way up the stairs, and down the second-floor hallway. While I waited I asked the same question that I posed to Stan Horton to another person working, she told me that she did not know why testing was being handled the way it was. I didn’t get my temperature taken until 1:08.
At every opportunity presented to me I repeated my questions and finally got a semi-satisfying answer: Because the school has a contract with an outside company, Convenient MD, they have little control over how testing is conducted. This is an understandable dilemma, however, it still does not really answer my other question, which is: Why would the school not schedule time blocks for certain students to arrive, even if they had no control over the date on which the company would conduct testing?
By 1:15 I was in a room filling out my paperwork when I overheard two individuals working discussing how they had to clear students off of the steps inside the building where they had been told to wait in line because people were falling. This meant there would be more students waiting outside in the snow for longer. After filling out my paperwork I was sent down to the basement to wait in the actual line to get tested. This line went from the basement in Lyons, up the stairs, through the cafe, through the lobby, out the back door, and into the Putnam Center. By 1:32, as I continued to wait in this line, we were compensated with NEC t-shirts, but they were all Extra-Large (I took one anyway, even though I’m a size small and I already have a vast collection of NEC t-shirts). It is also important to note, that I had been waiting in line for longer than the hour which is allowed for in-person classes.
By 1:35 I was outside the Putnam Center, and by1:40 I had been tested. I was lucky that I only had to wait roughly an hour and ten minutes when some of my fellow students had to wait upwards of two hours.
By the end of this experience, I found myself both frustrated with the school and generally confused by the situation overall. It was not until later in the evening that I learned during a conversation with James Mattheu, Student Body President, where the issues originated. According to James, problems began when the testers from Convenient MD arrived to the testing site late, and with testers missing. For hours only one person was at the site doing the tests, when there should have been five. While the school scrambled to get new people, such as Laura Anderson, a nurse practitioner approved to do tests through a long and tedious bureaucratic process with Convenient MD’s legal department, more students began to arrive, and this lead to what James described as a “snowball effect,” leading to the long lines and overcrowding that were witnessed on the ninth. According to James, the fault of these unpleasant circumstances can be attributed 10% to the school and 90% to Convenient MD.
I can empathize with the faculty and staff who were running testing, as many circumstances such as the snowy weather and Convenient MD’s shortcomings were out of their control, though I also feel that communication between the students and the school should have been more of a priority. I feel it is important to emphasize that regardless of who is at fault, the safety and wellness of students were compromised. I also feel that it is important to emphasize that the students of NEC are adults, not children, and when they are being forced into a situation such as this, they are entitled to certain information regarding the how and why of the circumstances. The same goes to the staff who seemed to also be left in the dark about the situation.
I have faith that going forward the school will do what it takes to ensure that a situation like this never occurs in the future, either by renegotiationing their contract with Convenient MD, or even letting students get tested at off campus sites to minimize crowding.