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An email notification popped up on students’ phones and laptops in the afternoon Sept. 18 announcing the news — in-person classes are returning Oct. 5.

Listed in the email were additional measures to the university’s original reopening plan to prepare for students to come back. The first change on the list was to launch a mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing program for on-campus students once they arrive.

In an email, Vice President for Student Affairs Tim Miller said 5% of each residence hall will be tested weekly until Thanksgiving break. He said the Office of Residence Life will compose a list of all students with a 2020-21 housing contract who are on campus and that students who’ve withdrawn from the university or are in isolation spaces will be removed from the list. Athletes will also be removed from the list, he said, because they’re being tested separately.

Once students are selected, Miller said that the Surveillance Testing Team will email them the Tuesday prior to their intended test day, which will be the following Monday. He said this email will contain information about the testing site, the test itself, what to bring with them, exemption forms and how to sign up for their appointment. He said students will receive a reminder the day before their appointment.

“The purpose of surveillance testing is to monitor the current state of the pandemic,” Miller said in an email. “We can use this testing to monitor things like whether the virus is moving into a new area, affecting some groups of people more than other groups or whether its prevalence is increasing or decreasing.”

Miller said in an email that surveillance testing will occur every Monday from 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at 502 Madison Union beginning Oct. 5. There’ll be 12 30-minute time slots with 25 people in each slot, he said, and the maximum occupancy at the site is 40 people.

In an email, JMU Director of Communications and University Spokesperson Caitlyn Read said the university partnered with ARCpoint Labs to provide data entry and collection services for the surveillance testing. ARCpoint’s website states that the company is “following all recommendations and safety protocols put in place by federal agencies to ensure … safe service.” ARCpoint Labs’ Salem location is the collection services provider for Virginia Tech and Roanoke College, and in addition to universities, it provides testing services to government agencies and companies throughout southwest Virginia.

“As we examined the need for this type of testing, we looked to our colleagues across the Commonwealth and had heard that VA Tech and Roanoke had a good experience with ARCpoint,” Miller said in an email. “This led to us reaching out to them.”

The original email sent to students introducing the surveillance testing stated that JMU won’t be testing all students prior to their return to campus. The reasoning behind this that the email provided was because research and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asserted that “entry testing has no sound basis in science and is a misuse of testing resources.” 

However, junior sports and recreation management major Kevin McTiernan said he feels differently. He said JMU should’ve tested all the on-campus students who’ve gone home during the in-person closure to make sure they’re not bringing COVID-19 back with them once they return.

“I don’t feel like this is a smart or effective way of testing kids,” McTiernan said. “What legal obligations do they have to randomly test us?”

McTiernan said he lives in Paul Jennings Hall, where he’s been able to stay after most on-campus students were sent home. He said he’s worried cases will spike once students return to campus. The original email sent to students said surveillance testing will help the university “get ahead of potential outbreaks.”

Miller said in an email that students who don’t schedule an appointment or don’t attend their assigned testing day will be automatically assigned to the following week’s date. Failure to go to their second testing day, he said, may result in a hold on their student account.

Surveillance testing may eventually expand to off-campus students. In an email, Miller said once testing for approximately 40% of the on-campus population is completed, the university plans on extending surveillance testing to off-campus students.

“We believe the addition of surveillance testing is an important step to monitor the health of our community by getting a sense of the virus,” Miller said. “As part of a comprehensive approach to returning, I believe this can really make a difference.”

Contact Kamryn Koch at kochkr@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.