My daughter has been back on campus at the University of Alabama for two weeks now and, unsurprisingly, COVID is running rampant among students. Although our entire family already had COVID this summer as I wrote about in detail last week, Jill decided to get tested again on campus after many of her friends tested positive. Below is an email she sent to University officials following her horrendous experience.
My name is Jill Marks, and I had the opportunity of being on the Zoom call with student leaders this afternoon. At 1:30, I also had an appointment scheduled at Coleman Coliseum to get tested for COVID, and I wanted to let you know about my experience in hopes that the testing system can be resolved.
First off, I want to preface this by saying I have not had any COVID symptoms, and after contracting COVID last month while at home, I felt pretty confident that I was not positive with COVID (luckily, my results from the rapid test came back negative as well). I spoke to several people while at Coleman who had previously been tested there, and they indicated their experience this time around was completely different.
I arrived 15 minutes before the appointment time to stand in a line of 75+ people waiting for tests. After waiting outside for 30 minutes, it started to pour down rain, and the staff did their best to bring in everyone under the roof outdoors to keep everyone dry. While this was necessary, it was also extremely difficult to remain socially distanced. A girl nearby me passed out for reasons I do not know. After standing under this roof for another 45 minutes, I was at the front of the line waiting to go inside. Social distancing was still not being practiced, and those around me started talking about how they knew they were positive. This understandably started to freak me out.
We had to get an online waiver signed before we could enter inside, which had not been communicated to us beforehand. This caused a delay in people getting tested, and those who were not near the front did not know they had to sign this waiver. While standing at the front of the line, a worker asked me to go around and help communicate the instructions. When I indicated I was not comfortable with this, she told me I either already had COVID or had already been exposed anyways.
Once inside, the line moved much more quickly. The rest of the experience was not as bad once inside, and I was tested and waited around 45 minutes for my results, which I had expected. All in all, I was at the testing center for 3 hours, and not only were appointment times not required, they were not even checked.
I say all of this because I do not believe Coleman Coliseum handled COVID testing properly. I am lucky to not have any autoimmune issues, but it worries me for people who do. The amount of students crammed together in one space was appalling, especially considering people who knew they were positive, exhibited symptoms, and only were getting tested to be a good samaritan were all in one space. I now think I need to get tested in the next five days in case I contracted the virus just by waiting.
I wanted to suggest several options that I believe could make this process smoother, and I would also be more than happy to speak with you in further detail if you would like.
- First off, I think it would be in everyone's best interest to be separated based on their reasons to get tested. Those who have been exposed, who are experiencing symptoms, and who are just trying to get tested for the greater good of the community should not all be in one confined space less than six feet apart.
- This could be done by holding different time blocks for those with different reasons or by opening up different spaces for people to get tested based on their reasoning.
- Secondly, to cut down on the number of people waiting to get tested, I believe the appointment times should be followed.
- The staff could ask people to wait in their cars or nearby and shoot students texts whenever they are ready to be tested.
- Thirdly, I believe a lot of the issues could have been resolved if this online waiver was sent out beforehand. We were not aware this was something that needed to be signed, and I think a lot could have been avoided if it was sent out along with the appointment reminder.
- Lastly, it appeared the testing center was understaffed. I completely understand there is a great need for these essential workers across our campus and community, but limiting the number of people coming in at a time could relieve stress from these workers.
I do not write this email as a complaint, but rather as a way to get these issues resolved. I want our campus to stay open like everybody else, but I was very upset after leaving the testing center. Again, I would be more than happy to talk with you about this at greater lengths.
Thank you for your time, and please let me know if you have any further questions.
Jill Marks | Marketing and Public Relations
President | Beat Auburn Beat Hunger
Director of Account Management | Capstone Agency
The University of Alabama
Here was the University's canned response to her email the next day:
Thank you for your email sharing your experience at Coleman Coliseum yesterday and your recommendation for improvement. Significant changes were made and things ran much smoother today.
Again, we appreciate you sharing your recommendations and wish you all the best.
B****** B**** | Administrative
Assistant to the President
Disappointing response to say the least. You don't have to be a Marketing and PR major like my daughter to know that this is NOT how to handle a Public Relations nightmare that is the COVID testing cluster on campus.
When I first asked Jill if I could publish her email on our blog, she declined saying the University is already having bad publicity due to the growing COVID numbers. Go figure, I guess.
But after receiving the disappointing response from the President's Office, she changed her mind and hopes that by shedding more public light on the rampant COVID testing problems on campus, that significant and meaningful improvements will be swiftly made by the University.
Don't get me wrong. Our family loves the University of Alabama. That's where I met my husband 28 years ago after all. But even if you love something or someone, you cannot turn a blind eye to problems that are putting people in harm's way.
I know I'm her mom and of course biased because of it, but I think Jill's email was thoughtful and respectful (even though I know she was hopping mad when she wrote it) and offered tangible solutions for the University.
I only hope that those solutions do not fall on deaf ears of University officials.