COVID-19 testing is highly encouraged for faculty and staff members at the University of Richmond but is not a mandatory condition of employment, Vice President and General Counsel Shannon Sinclair said in a press conference with Collegian staff on Sept. 18.
Six hundred and fifty five faculty and staff members registered for initial screening tests at the beginning of the semester, which UR provided for free, Sinclair said. All but two full-time faculty members who were randomly selected for prevalence testing on Sept. 15 signed up to be tested, Sinclair said.
Sinclair said groups in educational institutions, which were identified by the Center for Disease Control as congregate settings where disease transmission can occur, are those who need to be targeted through testing, Sinclair said.
UR's testing strategy adopted a risk-based approach for groups in congregate settings, she said. The Virginia Department of Health identified the highest number of cases among 20- to 29-year-olds living in shared spaces such as dorm rooms and apartments, so faculty and staff were not required to be tested, Sinclair said.
Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media and public relations, wrote in an email to The Collegian that about 20% of the more than 400 undergraduate faculty are teaching fully remotely. UR also has many faculty and staff coming and going from campus for shortened or irregular hours, along with those who are keeping more regular on-campus hours, Price wrote.
Thad Williamson, professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics and law, said he felt comfortable with how the testing policy and procedures had been applied as the UR community had been working to make the hybrid teaching scenario possible.
Williamson, who is also president of the University Faculty Senate, said UR encouraged everybody who was going to be teaching on campus this semester to get tested.
"I think the main thing is that faculty appreciate that we were offered free testing in a convenient location and that the university recognized this needed to be part of the public health approach," he said.
Sophomore Evan Wladkowski said he was surprised that faculty and staff were not required to get tested even though testing for students was mandatory.
"If it's mandatory for students to get tested, I feel that it would logically make sense that faculty should also be required to get tested, not only for equity purposes, but also for the general safety of the campus population," Wladkowski said. "I don't necessarily know what I expected the policy to be regarding faculty, but I was caught a little off guard."
Williamson said the Faculty Senate was in close contact with the administration over the summer and had had frequent conversations about testing protocols since the semester began.
"From the moment the university announced it intended to bring students back in the fall, [UR] recognized that testing as many people as possible at the outset so they could get that baseline information was going to be critical to success," Williamson said. "So [the Faculty Senate] communicated that over and over, and as of now we're pretty pleased with the response this administration has shown to what we said and what public health authorities have said."
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Sinclair said the prevalence testing strategy would continue through the fall semester with modification if needed.
Williamson said the Faculty Senate would communicate a need for more aggressive testing and testing policies if the need arose.
UR provided additional healthcare benefits to faculty and staff members because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer. UR's healthcare service provider, Cigna, will waive all out-of-pocket costs for COVID-related healthcare visits for employees, he said.
Hale said that UR also created a provision for childcare services to support faculty and staff members this year. The closures of Richmond and Henrico County public schools introduced a childcare burden for some employees, and UR provided $1,200 to faculty and staff members with children 15 years old and younger to help offset costs of childcare, he said.
UR also contracted Care.com, a third-party service that employees can use to find certified child, elder and pet care providers, Hale said.
Initial testing and prevalence testing, conducted by SecureHealth, a healthcare monitoring and testing company, are components of a larger testing strategy that UR employs, other elements of which are contact testing, symptomatic testing and testing for potential outbreaks, Sinclair said. However, testing is only a part of a layered approach to keep campus safe, she said.
"People have to remember that, as important as testing is, testing only tells you about their status at the moment," Sinclair said. "Sadly, there’s no single lever we can pull. We have to do a lot of things together to contain COVID-19 on our campus."
Contact investigative editor Morgan Howland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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