Tech starts drive-in testing to combat Omicron

A picture of the W23 parking deck by the EBB building in the Bioquad. The Institute has recently refitted this location to act as a drive-through testing location for COVID-19 exposed individuals. // Photo by Taylor Gray Student Publications

When students left Tech for winter break, the COVID-19 Omicron variant was certainly prominent but had just started to infect people in the United States. Now, as students have returned for the spring semester, COVID-19 cases have been skyrocketing at Tech and around the country, leading to a large peak in cases not seen since the very beginning of the pandemic.

The Omicron variant emerged in southern Africa in late November, with the first U.S. case being confirmed on Dec. 1, according to the CDC. 

While still possessing many similar traits to other past variants, the Omicron virus does present the unfortunate threat of being able to evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection that many members of the U.S. population have acquired at some point or another over the course of the pandemic. 

Within one month it became the dominant variant in the U.S., thanks in large part to these traits and has been marked with increased transmission, even among those who are fully vaccinated. 

While its capacity to cause severe illness has not been fully described, the Omicron variant has continued to set record numbers of positive cases per day. 

Some scientists claim that we may be approaching a peak while many others are not as positive, leaving the campus with no clear end in sight to the newest chapter of the pandemic.

With COVID-19 infections spiking across the country, many colleges faced the decision to either move instruction back online for the beginning of the spring semester or attempt to remain in person and gauge the situation as the semester goes. 

Tech decided to push forward with in-person instruction but has seen outbreaks since the start of classes in both residential dorms and classroom settings. 

As of Jan. 18, there have been 983 new positive cases on campus, more than the number of cases reported during the entirety of the Fall 2021 semester. Tech also reached a record number of positive cases in one day this month, with 167 individuals testing positive on Jan. 6 through surveillance or emergency testing. 

Due to the staggering rise in cases, Tech has implemented more services to control the spread of COVID-19 in an attempt to ease the resurging threat and maintain a level of safety to ensure in person activities can continue forward as in last semester. 

On Jan. 6, President Ángel Cabrera sent an email to the Tech community emphasizing the increased spread of the Omicron variant, as well as various ways students, staff and faculty can work to reduce transmission
rates on campus.  

These included wearing masks in indoor and group settings, resuming weekly testing soon after return to campus, getting vaccinated and receiving a booster shot whenever able. 

Despite these advised precautionary measures, President Cabrera made sure to emphasize the importance of remaining social where possible to prevent poor mental health, and  included ways to safely enjoy the company of friends and classmates, such as by  trying to socialize outdoors
when possible. 

For those who are struggling with mental health, President Cabrera made sure to mention that the Institute CARE staff are always able and willing to help those in need and are available throughout the week.

He also urged community members to stay home when sick and prioritize their health over work- or school-related functions. Although these precautions have helped to limit COVID-19 spread in past semesters, Tech realized the Omicron variant may need additional measures to control.

Shortly after the President’s email, the Institute Coronavirus Task Force sent out information on Jan. 10 about additional symptomatic testing to be available on campus later in the week. Starting on Jan. 12 at Parking Deck W23, any Tech faculty or staff with COVID-19 symptoms could participate in drive-through diagnostic testing. 

The process is similar to asymptomatic surveillance testing, but the individuals must remain in their cars to take the test, allowing for quicker, safer distribution of testing for all parties involved.

Although students are encouraged to make an appointment for diagnostic testing at Stamps Health Services, this additional testing site will be available to them if they cannot secure an appointment and have COVID-19 symptoms.

Asymptomatic surveillance testing is still available on campus at various locations, and COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters are still being administered at Stamps with an appointment.

With cases on the rise throughout the U.S., the Institute hopes its COVID-19 measures can help keep it ahead of the curb, stand up to this most recent variant and ultimately prevent the Spring 2022 in-person spring semester from being stifled by Omicron.