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University increases frequency of follow-ups for student testing in spring semester

Student COVID-19 Testing Team makes 1,300 follow-up calls each week this semester along with emails, texts reminding students about COVID-19 testing

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2021

“Our records showed that, as of 8:00AM this morning, you had not completed a routine COVID-19 test through the Healthy at School program in the last four days.” This line is sent to thousands of student inboxes each week by the Student COVID-19 Testing Team, a group responsible for notifying students enrolled in the testing program to schedule their next test according to their assigned frequency. 

The Student COVID-19 Testing Team tracks around 9,000 students, said Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Support Services Timothy Shiner, who has coordinated student testing logistics since August. The team makes an average of around 1,300 follow-up calls each week, in addition to email and text reminders, Shiner said. 

For undergraduates living on or off campus, testing is required twice a week, while graduate students are either required to test once or twice a week depending on time spent on campus, according to the Healthy Brown website

In addition to testing, students are required to record their symptoms daily in a portal operated by Verily, the University’s vendor for test processing. Students receive automated email reminders about symptom tracking from Verily. The Testing Team also sends a mass email once a week to students who have not recorded their symptoms in Verily that week, Shiner said. All reminders sent by the University are manually “triggered” on a daily basis, Shiner said.

Starting this semester, participants are notified at least a day sooner than last semester in order “to prevent students from falling out of compliance rather than waiting until they (are) out of compliance to begin follow-ups,” Shiner said.

The team learned last semester that there are multiple ways in which a student can be non-compliant, Shiner said — a student who gets tested late repeatedly and a student who is over a week late for one test are “both serious concerns.” The Testing Team has tried to make the reminder system as fair as possible considering the various ways “someone might be out of compliance,” Shiner said. 

The team currently takes different levels of action to notify students “depending on how close to or out of compliance the student is,” Shiner said. A student who has not scheduled a test in four days but is not yet out of compliance will “usually just get an email,” while a student already out of compliance will start receiving phone call reminders, he said. If an email follow-up receives no response, a phone call and additional email are made the following day. 

The student testing follow-up team consists of nine staff members responsible for all outbound communication to students seven days a week. In the spring, less than a quarter of students have been responding to all follow-ups, a lower response rate than the fall semester, Student Testing Follow-Up Team Lead Amber Jackson said. 

Since phone numbers are pulled from students’ Banner accounts, in some cases a lack of response may be due to a parent’s phone number being listed. In these cases, the responding parent is asked to relay to the student that they update their information, Jackson said. 

Many students that returned after being on campus last semester have “adjusted to the (testing) program,” Jackson said. Upon receiving follow-ups or phone calls, students know to schedule their tests. “There’s nothing that worries me,” she added.  

The team generally applies a three strike rule — sending three reminders before a student’s name is sent to Student Conduct, Jackson said. 

“When a student is referred to our office for being out of compliance with testing for three or more days, we look at the student’s testing history and have several different actions we may take upon evaluating the information,” Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio ‘95, senior associate dean of students and director of student conduct and community standards, wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Actions taken by Student Conduct range in disciplinary severity. These include non-disciplinary reminder letters, disciplinary letters regarding alleged violations and Dean’s Review Meetings. Students may be referred to a higher-level hearing if necessary, with the possibility of interim disciplinary measures while the case is ongoing. 

Student Conduct’s policies and procedures have not changed since last semester, but the office has increased communication with students around testing, Castillo-Appollonio wrote. “Given the importance of everyone playing an individual role in protecting community health, our initial focus, when possible, is on educating students about their responsibilities.” 

“In this case, the first reminders come through the student testing follow-up team, and the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards initiates disciplinary follow-up only if non-compliance becomes more significant,” she wrote. 

Emails have been incorrectly sent to students on occasion due to human error, Shiner said. There have been some instances where several hundred students were incorrectly emailed reminders despite being tested due to a change in Verily’s system that affected how the team downloaded information, he explained. 

“The way that we communicate with (Verily) and the way that our systems integrate has improved over the past few months,” Shiner said. The team is also paying closer attention to their internal systems to catch mistakes.

“There have been some growing pains,” Shiner said. “A group of folks are working really hard and dealing with this on top of their regular responsibilities and the impacts of everything going on in the world.”

“It hasn’t been perfect, but (we’re) doing our best and hopefully students feel like we are responsive when they get misinformation and they reach out to clarify,” he added.

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