EDITOR’S COLUMN: Failing a dangerous test

The United States is still very much in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of students moved back to Big Rapids, even with remote classes. Ferris State University needs to implement mandatory, free broad testing of our students to accurately track the spread of the virus through our campus community.

The university needs to take responsibility and improve their COVID-19 testing of their students if they want to have in-person classes. After having months to prepare for the fall semester and plan for thousands of students to come back to campus, their laid back approach to testing is concerning. The only students who were required to be tested were those who moved into on-campus housing, which amounted to about 2,600 students. Testing by the university was not offered to students who do not live on campus, even if they had in person classes.

While there is not the regular amount of 10,000+ of students in Big Rapids, there are still thousands of students here, most of whom live off campus. Keeping students safe should be of utmost importance to our university, but their lack of action says differently.

The implications of relaxed testing protocols is enormous —students have already shown in the first few weeks of class that they will gather at large parties or fill local bars with no masks or social distancing. Obviously it is difficult to control that, but the university needs to provide wide spread testing so that those who inevitably contract the virus can be quarantined and not cause a major outbreak in Big Rapids.

Our Dean of Student Life, Joy Pulsifer, may send us emails periodically to update us on the school’s plan. But to sum it up, that plan is to tell students not to have parties, to wear masks and to social distance. That plan also includes relying on students to report positive cases to the website and complete the symptom checker every day, even if they aren’t on campus.

“Those who choose not to follow these expectations and requirements will be held accountable through the University’s disciplinary process and if applicable with municipal sanctions/fines,” Pulsifer said in an email to all students. “Minimally, students found in violation will jeopardize their ability to continue in-person at Ferris this fall. Individuals found responsible for hosting large gatherings may face additional discipline up to and including suspension from the University.”

That email was sent out to students on Aug. 25. That same night, there was video footage of a party of over 100 students outside an apartment complex off campus. No masks, no social distancing. University administrators received footage of this party and two days later sent out an email upping the possible punishment to “separation from the University” without a refund of their tuition.

The lack of effort to test students off-campus is perhaps the most concerning part of their plan. As of Sept. 8, Grand Valley State University has done similar amounts of testing—2,843 according to MLive—however, their data shows that 90 percent of the 394 active cases were off-campus students. Only 35 students on-campus have tested positive for COVID-19. MLive’s article also notes that 95 of the confirmed cases were gathered from GVSU’s testing partnership with Spectrum Health.

I went through the COVID-19 testing process at Spectrum Health on Friday—largely for precautionary reasons due to a small chance I had been exposed and had planned to go home. For the record, I tested negative.

In the questionnaire on Spectrum’s app when making a COVID screening or testing appointment, there’s a question that asks if you are a student or staff member at GVSU. Why does Ferris not have this? Are we seriously going to rely on students to report their positive tests? I know students who have shown COVID-19 symptoms and won’t even go get tested because they’re positive it’s just a cold or the seasonal flu.

Spectrum Health Hospital is the only testing location in Big Rapids. Having the same partnership with them as GVSU would be a great way to help track the number of positive cases among students and staff. Both GVSU and Central Michigan University are tracking off campus “hot spots” connected to their positive cases. GVSU has a COVID Health Line to help students schedule testing and they are testing high-risk groups regularly—they list athletes, resident assistants and critical personnel.

The university needs to take some accountability, and they need to do it now.

The university’s newest slogan is “Ferris Forward.” Tell me, how is it forward thinking to go into the school year with a plan that is highly reactionary and not precautionary? To not offer free testing to your whole student body in order to curb and track infection rates? To put all the responsibility of the success of this plan on students?

I get that we are adults. I get that part of the responsibility is on us, and I’m willing to do my part. But not everyone is, and the university is operating under the assumption that they are.

There is no way there are only 53 cases of COVID-19 in Big Rapids after two full weeks of classes.

There needs to be widespread testing for our student body in Big Rapids and positive cases need to be reported in this county. Students deserve the transparency to know how safe they are and be able to make informed decisions for themselves. The university should be funding the testing as well, since students are already paying full tuition for remote learning.

Ferris needs to take a step back and realize their students’ safety is more important than trying to make it look like our numbers are low.