Things To Know About Returning to School Covid Testing and The Impacts


Photo by Abram Carter: The French Broad Surveillance room is located just inside the side doors of the High Smith Student Union on the bottom floor.

Abram Carter, [email protected], News writer

As the start of the spring semester arrives at UNC Asheville, many new and returning students and staff said they are finding it difficult to return because of the rising numbers of omicron variant cases and the limited number of COVID-19 testing available. 

“I went to all CVS’s near me and was honest and told them I just needed to get tested to go back to school, and in the past that was never a problem, but this time there was nothing at any CVS and nothing at any Walgreens,” said Hope Sikes, a current sophomore living on campus.

Testing remains scarce with many businesses like CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies having no openings for available COVID-19 tests until two or three weeks after the start of classes. Places that do have available tests usually have a two to three hour long line wait, making finding and receiving a test difficult. The amount of availability for testing depends on the location as well, with bigger cities having a far more limited amount of testing.

“Since I live in the Charlotte area, about 30 minutes away from downtown, I get my healthcare from Atrium, or Atrium health which is like the biggest health care system in Charlotte,” Sikes said.

Sikes said the announcement for student testing happened suddenly, causing chaos and questions on how to find an appointment before the start of the semester as well as mentioning that COVID-19 testing should be free and accessible to everyone no matter where they live. 

“I wanted to get results in under 72 hours and I wanted to be safe, but the only appointment I could find was 40 minutes away in Mount Holly.” Sikes said.

Students can also receive tests from UNCA’s COVID surveillance testing site located at Highsmith Student Union in the French Broad room. However, according to the school COVID Account emails sent weekly, students can only receive a test at a surveillance session if they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

During the program’s first week of testing, Brianna Pool, a student who got tested at the site last week, said high demand for the tests pushed back the turnaround for results from 48 to 72 hours. Result times also depend on the day that the student signs up for, with the links sent in the COVID Account emails showing the amount of slots left available each day. 

Available hours and the amount of people able to get tested differentiate with each day the surveillance testing takes place throughout the semester and school officials said they advise students to sign up well in advance for better chances of getting tested. 

“After I signed up for testing, I was sent another email that told me to go to the testing site between 12:45 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.,” Pool said

 Students are not the only people having problems with testing, as some employees have not returned to campus because of testing, or if they have returned, found themselves experiencing changes to their work environments. 

“It has been quiet here compared to what was expected and what it is said to usually be like in the store before the start of a semester” said Eliza Dreier, the UNCA Bookstore manager.

 From dealing with textbook pick ups and recent book shipping, UNCA Bookstore employees said they find it difficult to adjust to serving customers in the first week of remote learning. The high demand in online orders comes just after a long and slow fall semester with barely any online orders and plenty of in-person pickups. The anticipation for a large crowd was thought of and preparations for the spring semester began back at the beginning of December.

Dreier has also said so far there have been more online orders than in-person pick ups, which means that the estimated date for the beginning of the semester rush won’t start until Jan. 17 and that the reason for the high demand in online books either being shipped out or later picked up is because of the testing rules and the fact that not everyone had to come back to campus.  

“I have seen more online orders and shipping orders because of student delays with testing before coming back onto campus,” Dreier said.

Regardless of Dreier’s and other employee’s statuses, they continue to take measures to make sure that others can be safe. 

 “I did take multiple COVID tests myself for peace of mind and just in case before returning to work, but to my knowledge, I am technically not a university employee, so I got tested anyway before to be safe,” Drier said.

Brennan Cotton, a guest services worker at Highsmith said they get their fair share of COVID testing related questions. 

“I get about three of four questions from individuals a day about testing,” Cotton said. 

The desk is equipped with masks for the students and staff who need them. 

“I think we are doing a good job overall telling and showing people the testing sites, but there are still a lot of obscure questions,” Cotton said. 

According to Cotton, the building is useful overall and helpful for students and staff who need them. 

“I feel we don’t have enough testing because of supply issues and especially with people coming back, so it is really worrisome for sure,” Cotton said.