A hit pop track echoes in the distance. A lone plastic straw sits in the grass. Anxious students keep their heads down as they desperately search for an isolated corner to begin spitting into a vial.
This isn’t the aftermath of a wild house party or a successful gameday – it’s a routine saliva COVID-19 testing site on UF’s campus.
UF implemented biweekly mandatory COVID-19 screenings and saliva tests for students living on campus, involved in Greek life or enrolled in face-to-face sections. With the increased test administration this Spring, UF said it is taking the necessary measures to ensure the testing site volunteers, employees and thousands of students getting tested every day feel safe.
In a campus brief emailed to all faculty and staff Jan. 29, UF Health Screen, Test & Protect wrote that it “continues to perform more than 2,000 PCR saliva tests per day, with a capacity for up to 3,200 tests daily -- more than three times the maximum number of daily tests administered in the fall.”
Testing volunteers and employees are provided N-95 masks, and an infection control specialist pays a visit to each location to ensure protocols are being met, UF Health’s Screen, Test & Protect Associate Director for testing operations Meghan Froman said. Additionally, UF Health gave all employees and volunteers the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after its arrival to UF in December.
“The volunteers and staff all know that we have their safety as number one,” Froman said. “We function as a team, so if they see something that might help with the processes or anything like that, we work as a team to make that work well.”
Zachary Raad began volunteering to help administer tests in September before becoming a paid employee in January.
“I just wanted to really see how I could help the local community during the pandemic,” the 21-year-old Chinese and chemistry senior said.
Raad doesn’t believe spending time at the test sites puts him at any greater risk of infection than a trip to the grocery store or taking a stroll outside. He said he is less anxious now that he received both doses of the vaccine, and his involvement is good practice for his future in the medical field.
“You definitely have to deal with similar situations in hospitals,” he said.
UF Health Screen, Test & Protect test site supervisor Leon Chen said the program streamlined the testing process this Spring to properly handle the increase in students coming to receive tests. Any concerns presented by the volunteers are accounted for, Chen said.
“If anyone doesn't feel comfortable with doing their specific role, we would be happy to swap them out or give them something that they think is more safer,” the 28-year-old UF alumnus said. “We don't want our volunteers to feel anxiety doing what they do.”
The influx of students being tested this semester has raised concerns over the safety of the testing sites, as volunteers and employees are protected only by their masks. Though the sites are decorated with bright markers on the ground measuring about six feet apart, students still bump into each other as they try to hand off their vials of saliva as quickly as possible.
“With the walk-ups, I think there is more of a risk of getting anything just because a few times that I went, there are a lot of people there,” Amanda Bastos Feijo, a 20-year-old UF economics and sustainability junior, said.
Despite the perceived risk of contracting the virus at the crowded walk-up testing sights, Bastos Feijo said she appreciates the efficiency and accessibility of COVID-19 testing at UF. During her stay in Brazil over Winter Break, receiving a test to return to the United States was nearly impossible, she said.
Unlike UF’s COVID-19 tests, Bastos Feijo said she had to pay for a test in Brazil, so she appreciates the availability of testing sites on campus. She believes students should remain cautious, however.
“If you're doing that in-person one, and everyone's crowded in front of the stadium or wherever they are, you just gotta be mindful of who's around you,” she said.
Contact Abigail Hasebroock at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @abbeyhasebroock.
Abigail is a second-year journalism major covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. When she’s not catching up on school or reporting, she’s spending time outside, reading or reorganizing her Spotify playlists - usually all at the same time.