Slightly less than half (49 percent) of public and private, nonprofit four-year colleges provided some type of COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic students this spring, according to new data from Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative published Thursday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
A total of 899 of 1,849 total institutions required some testing of asymptomatic students as of March 17, when the data were collected. Among the 1,098 institutions that primarily conducted classes in an in-person or hybrid format this spring, 548 -- again, just under half -- provided some level of asymptomatic testing.
Christopher Marsicano, an assistant professor of the practice in educational studies at Davidson and director of the College Crisis Initiative, said the figures are concerning “because over half of all transmissions come from asymptomatic people.”
Among institutions that provided testing for asymptomatic students, 389 (43 percent) required periodic testing for various subgroups (such as athletes, fraternity and sorority members, or a random sample of students). Just 287 (32 percent) mandated that all students receive regular testing, at frequencies ranging from once every other day to once every other week. That’s higher than in the fall, when the College Crisis Initiative found that just 6 percent of all colleges were routinely testing all students, but not nearly high enough, Marsicano argues.
“That’s a low number of institutions relative to the whole of the country that are doing what they need to do to test all students on their campus regularly,” Marsicano said. “That’s what it takes to stop COVID-19 from spreading, and only a handful of institutions are doing it. The reason why only a handful are doing it is it’s really expensive.”
Of the 1,849 total institutions, 338 (18 percent), including 146 colleges that are offering primarily in-person or hybrid instruction this spring, did not publish a COVID-19 testing protocol on their website.