By: Zachary Notkin  | 

YU’s COVID Testing Policies are Archaic and Counterproductive

On the morning of March 21, YU’s COVID Student Line sent out an email clarifying the updated policy for student testing. When I saw the email pop up in my inbox, my first reaction was relief, since I assumed that it would contain a positive development. COVID has become a virtual non-concern on campus, and, to our immense joy, life has returned to normal with the exceptions of weekly testing and the minority of teachers who still require masks. 

Of these vestigial remnants of the peak pandemic COVID policy, weekly testing, is by far the most disruptive. The only time available for testing leaves students sacrificing some of their precious midday break, and the highly inconvenient location overwhelms the already inundated Belfer Hall elevators. It is worth noting that the testing itself runs relatively smoothly without the long lines that once plagued the process.

While students could once fulfill the testing requirement with an outside test, perhaps receiving a free donut in the process, third-party testing was outlawed at the beginning of the semester. The official reason is that outside tests are hard to verify, but the school still requires outside tests under certain circumstances. It may be related that Kenny Rozenberg, an alumnus whose son recently bought El Al airlines, owns the company that performs the tests, which are paid for by students' insurance. Previously, the government subsidized the cost, but that is no longer the case.

The consequences of this seemingly minor adjustment became clear when some students accidentally missed the official testing times and had their IDs deactivated, meaning they could not enter any buildings on campus. When they reached out to the COVID Student Line to remedy the situation, they were told they would have to get an outside test and wait for it to be approved. Meanwhile, their IDs would remain deactivated. Inexplicably, these make-up tests could only be performed after ID deactivation.

Other policy decisions have compounded this issue. The university has decided that students without a doctor’s note must attend class in person, precluding a Zoom option, in a clear movement away from past COVID concerns. Therefore, any day without an ID is a day of missing class entirely. However, it is my understanding that students with deactivated IDs have universally sidestepped this issue by sneaking into campus buildings, making a deserved mockery of both the COVID policy and the security arrangements. Over the past couple of weeks, it seems that the number of students who have suffered from deactivated IDs has skyrocketed, and several people have asked me if I could help them sneak in.

So, when I saw an email in my school inbox on the subject of testing policy, I assumed that some steps might have been taken to remedy the situation, something I now consider laughable. Instead of outlining fixes, the email simply enumerated the problematic policy. While I am glad that the administration has chosen to communicate openly in this case, that doesn't improve its terrible policy. Students still must have their IDs deactivated for a day if they miss official testing.

When I asked some students for quotes for an article about the testing policy, I almost entirely received complaints about specific issues, and instead of quoting them, I chose to write this article as an opinion piece to amplify their voices. They complained to me about the unnecessary and inconvenient tests, and expressed frustration at the COVID team’s poor communication and lack of transparency or accountability. Multiple students claimed that their IDs were not reactivated on time, as had been specified in emails sent to them by the COVID team.

The policy feels vindictive. As punishment for forgetting to test, students must wait for an email telling them that their ID has been deactivated, wait a day, get an outside test and wait up to two days for it to be approved. I don’t see any reason that the school cannot send out warning emails the same way it sends out deactivation emails, or why students must wait a day in order to remedy the situation. The email refers to this consequence as “loss of campus access privileges,” as if a student can get by without access to the campus! 

This policy of ID deactivation makes students feel unwelcome on their own campus. Recent policy has disregarded students’ concerns in favor of convenience for administrators, who in this case, with one exception hide behind the anonymity of the COVID team, and do not face their policy’s consequences. While students have mandatory weekly testing, faculty has random testing. The very administrators who disallow Zoom classes officially work from home two days a week and are only available sporadically.

Recent trends indicate that student action on this issue will lack teeth. Attempts to boycott the cafeteria in protest of recent price increases as well as protests of the booster mandate both fizzled out. When I look around YU, I see students who have lost the energy and will to create change, sneaking into buildings rather than affecting policy. We choose to view our relationship with the institution as transactional and zero-sum.

This situation benefits neither students nor administration in the long term. If students and administrators ignore each other and choose to pass by like ships in the night, they have failed in the goal of the university, to create an environment of rigorous intellectual and religious development. The callous and vindictive testing policy, as well as the student response, are merely symptoms of that failure.

Photo Caption: Students waiting in line for COVID tests on the Wilf campus

Photo Credit: Zachary Notkin