by Madeline Morkin ’22
The pandemic’s persistence into the spring semester has led Providence College to make continuous adjustments in order to provide returning on-campus students with a sense of safety, sanity, and certainty regarding the effects of COVID-19 on PC’s small campus community. New improvements and guidelines are constantly being emailed out to parents and students in an attempt to alleviate everyone’s inescapable stress around the unpredictable virus and to circumvent future outbreaks on campus.
While the College has done a fantastic job at constantly implementing and communicating new and improved COVID-19 protocols and responses, one virus-avoidance tactic has continuously proved ineffective: the daily symptom self-screening or green check mark system.
Every morning at 6 a.m., the phones of both on- and off-campus students buzz and chime with the daily reminder: “Please complete your required daily COVID-19 symptom screening.” Subsequent to this reminder is a link which directs students towards a lengthy list of COVID-19 symptoms.
As directed by a short introductory message, students are asked to report if they are experiencing any of the listed symptoms by answering “Yes” or “No.” The College’s intent is for PC’s campus community to personally assess themselves and their physical well-being every morning in order to declare themselves symptom-free or symptomatic.
A symptom-free “No” response to the list of COVID-19 symptoms yields a green check mark, whereas a “Yes” response generates a red X mark. While the intent to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19 by having students self-assess themselves for symptoms is sound, several issues with this system make it almost entirely ineffective.
The first issue with the self-screening system emerges when considering the exhausting physical toll that late nights, early mornings, and long class and work schedules routinely take on college students. On the average day, a PC student likely experiences one or more of the listed COVID-19 symptoms, such as muscle or body aches, congestion or a runny nose, gastrointestinal symptoms, or fatigue.
While these listed symptoms, among several others, may be common to students on campus, they are often thoughtlessly disregarded as a result of students’ busy schedules, harsh changes in seasons and weather, or personal behaviors which could have potentially led them to experience these symptoms. The issue with this reality is that students then ignore their own COVID-19 symptoms by answering “No” in order to receive the green check mark that is required when reporting for weekly testing.
Of course, PC expects students to respond honestly in their daily self-screening, but, again, the long list of overabundant, yet common, COVID-19 symptoms leads students to answer “No” because they believe their symptoms are not a result of the virus itself, but rather a result of another issue.
Another major fault when considering PC’s self-screening process is that students often do not respond to it. While a text and email reminder prompting students to answer the symptom-check do come through every morning, the school has implemented no repercussions for not responding to the self-screening process at all.
The general consensus among students regarding the self-screening process is that it is a routine, yet meaningless task unless it comes through on a day that the student is to get tested. On the days in which a student is tested, the Office of Public Safety requires the display of a green check mark before students may enter further into the testing center, in order to keep symptomatic students away from those who are feeling healthy.
On non-testing days, students often avoid responding to the symptom self-assessment entirely, and no person of authority checks in to ensure that students are responding at all. In addition to there being no mandatory completion of the COVID-19 daily self-screening process, there is also a lack of enforcement by Public Safety officers to display the green check mark when entering campus facilities.
There is a lack of consistency when requiring students to display this green check mark, since different members of Public Safety may require this or not. Again, this makes the system ineffective, as it allows healthy and symptomatic campus members to unknowingly coexist without any repercussion.
While the green check mark system is good-intentioned in providing on-campus students with a safer and healthier community, it is poorly implemented and not consistently enforced by members of authority and security on campus, making it a failure of the COVID-19 protocols on campus.