On-campus, local students begin weekly testing

by Caitlin McCarthy | 10/2/20 2:00am

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by Natalie Cantave / The Dartmouth

As of Sept. 28, students spending the term on or near campus will be tested once a week for COVID-19. The primary testing area has been moved from the Maynard Lot near Dick’s House to Leverone Field House, and volunteer testers have been replaced by workers from testing company Axiom Medical.

While getting tested, students enter Leverone Field House through a designated entrance and are greeted by staff from Axiom. Faculty and staff enter through a different door. Those being tested have their temperatures taken, and are asked screening questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms. They then proceed to registration tables and are directed through a self-administered PCR test by an Axiom employee. 

“Aside from the first day where we had a little bit of backup in the morning, everything seems to be flowing smoothly,”  said Axiom implementation project manager David Beas, who is leading the team of Axiom employees in Hanover. “Both students and staff have been coming in, and the wait times haven’t been too bad.”

Axiom Medical Consulting has been helping with faculty and staff testing since early September. The company, located in Texas, has been working with school districts and colleges both in Texas and around the U.S. 

Fifteen Axiom staff are currently working at the testing site, and this number will increase to a total of 20 staff, according to Beas.

Students will be tested weekly throughout the term, with extra testing for students who are showing symptoms, according to vice provost for strategic initiatives and resource planning Chris Cook. Employees will also be tested "up to weekly" depending on how often they come to campus, Cook said, as "some employees are only in very occasionally, depending upon their role" as part of the College’s effort to "de-densify the campus." 

Most of Dartmouth's tests were provided by the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, Cook said. The most recent statement from the COVID-19 task force on Sept. 30 noted that Dartmouth is covering all testing costs and expenses.

The head of the testing operation has also changed since on-campus testing began, from Dick’s House office manager Pam Holbrook to Mary Frailey, the College’s director of institutional projects. 

Holbrook noted that she — like all administrators, faculty and staff helpers at the testing tent — needed to get back to her regular, full-time College job.

Cook also explained in an email to The Dartmouth that volunteers were used at the beginning of testing because the College “wanted to get the community involved in the students' return to campus." She added that Leverone Field House was chosen as the new primary testing location for all undergraduate students, graduate students and employees because Dartmouth “needed to find an indoor location to prepare for the colder days." 

Cook added that the Williamson Building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center will also open a testing site one day a week to serve as a secondary testing site for researchers and students at the Geisel School of Medicine, as well as for faculty and researchers at the Thayer School of Engineering. 

The system of signing up for testing has also changed. Students were originally pre-assigned time slots for testing to help "manage the flow of the staggered arrivals," Cook said. 

Since Sept. 23, students have been able to register for a testing time online. Cook noted this new system will make the weekly testing process more “accommodating, given the fact that [Dartmouth is] asking everybody to be tested every week.” Cook added that the website follows the structure of Dick’s House websites for scheduling flu clinics.

Abby Niles ’24 complimented the "easy and streamlined website."

Cindy Shen ’21 said that she was able to go get tested without signing up for a time slot. She received her results the following day and noted how quick the testing experience was. 

"Honestly, the walk [from Hitchcock] to Leverone took much longer than it did to get tested. Testing takes like five minutes, you just walk in," Shen said of her Wednesday test.

Beas and Cook said testing has gone smoothly since the change in locations, though both mentioned a slight crowd on Monday morning as people settled in to the new location and new employees became situated with their tasks. 

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