A campus based testing center: a social solution to a social crisis

UWT should stop emphasizing personal responsibility in their public-health plan. Instead, they should provide the tools we need to be safe and open a testing center on campus.

If UW Tacoma was serious about our safety, there would be a COVID-19 testing center in the middle of campus. Instead, the university continues to call on individuals to do their part. A convenient way to avoid responsibility.

On Monday, Jan. 3, UW’s office of the president emailed the “students, staff, faculty, and academic personnel across the university” per the email. President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Mark A. Richards praised the community’s work for our contributions to a “safe” in-person school environment last quarter before encouraging us to continue such safety measures this quarter.

But the message is ultimately one of individual action, putting the responsibility on each of us to get tested regularly, staying home from work when sick, and avoiding unsafe gatherings. The message offers no system changes or solutions.

Anyone who tried to get a COVID-19 test two weeks ago knows that it was no easy feat. With testing centers closed and at-home tests unavailable, many were left wondering if they became infected during holiday travel. Furthermore, it is not easy for every community member to stop by a testing center between work, school, and personal or family responsibilities, let alone take time off work when sick.

This is why the university should staff and fund a testing center on campus during the school week. Testing could be as easy as stopping at a tent or office between classes or on your way to your place of work. Such infrastructure could even allow for weekly testing of the entire community, giving us a chance to actually maintain safe in-person learning.

UW’s “Husky Coronavirus Testing” program is not a campus-based testing site; it is a way to monitor behavior and direct individuals to get tested when the algorithm deems it appropriate.

More testing is needed for various reasons, not least of which is the overburdened local health infrastructure putting us all at risk if we become severely ill. UW’s Seattle research hospital, the UW Medical Center, is one such overburdened facility struggling with over-exerted and extended staff and a full hospital all in the midst of the current Omicron wave.

Like the rest of our region’s healthcare infrastructure, the UW Medical Center is designed to function at near-capacity at all times. Such profit-minded planning means our hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with disasters and pandemics. 

Hospitals are designed this way driven by financial decisions. I suspect telling the UW community to get tested rather than providing testing is also driven by financial determinants. 

But maybe our healthcare systems and pandemic response should be driven by our community’s needs instead.

President Cauce and Provost Richards call on all of us to do the individual work needed to keep us safe. Fundamentally, this emphasis on individual responsibility is a neo-liberal framework. That is to say, it is a framework that emphasises individual behaviors rather than a framework that looks to public intervention and public funding for a solution.

The pandemic is a social crisis and requires social solutions. 

So I call on President Cauce and Provost Richards to give us the actual tools we need to keep us safe. Give us a social solution; provide accessible and regular testing on our campuses.