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COVID-19 testing at New England schools

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) created a new coronavirus (COVID-19) processing lab in response to the pandemic, which has received national praise.  

The lab at UNH has been online since August 24, and with its partnership with Quest Diagnostics and ConvenientMD, over 160,000 tests have been processed since July 29.  

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) recently visited UNH's COVID-19 lab. 

"I was very impressed both with the state of the art lab itself, the equipment itself, the way it was put together and the short time they were able to put it together," said Shaheen.  

In an interview with The New Hampshire, Shaheen dove into further detail on UNH's lab. "It’s the kind of strategy that needs to be broader. Not just in NH, but in the country." 

Building on this, one of Shaheen’s primary takeaways was the flexibility built into the lab.  

"They talked about the fact that they can expand the testing if they can partner with other places," she continued.  

"I’ve been working since back in May to try and ensure that we can have additional funding to have the supplies," said Shaheen in regards to working to expand this model to other schools around the country.  

In the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the House of Representatives allocated $47 billion for higher education funding. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $14 billion towards higher education, of which UNH received approximately $11 million.  

Shaheen has positioned herself as a proponent of the HEROES Act, believing more must be done for higher education. 

"When we passed the CARES Act… that did not go far enough. In the House bill, there is $47 billion. We have to provide additional help," she said. 

Even with UNH’s new COVID-19 lab, University System of New Hampshire (USNH) Chancellor Todd Leach outlined finances in an interview with NHPR, stating that USNH is facing a $70 million deficit.  

Students around New England are facing new COVID-19 restrictions as testing protocols. 

Jess Guertin, a psychology major at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst, expressed her safety concerns over returning to campus.  

"I don’t know how safe I’d feel, if I were in a dorm I’d feel extremely unsafe," said Guertin.  

UMass Amherst tests its students twice a week, much like UNH. 

"They are strongly encouraging us to get tested twice a week, So I’m getting tested twice a week," she said.   

Unlike UNH, UMass Amherst does not currently have a lab on campus to process student test results.  

"They’re pretty good on updating us on who is positive. I don’t know if their lab is open yet," said Guertin.  

Similar to UNH, the University of Vermont (UVM) has protocols in place in order to keep their campus open. 

Katie Henry, a junior physics and dance double major at UVM, described her experiences at her college. 

Much like UNH, UVM has a hybrid model they follow, with some classes online and some in person.  

"I have over half of my classes in person on campus, and the other half are online or remote," explained Henry.  

UVM students are tested half as much as UNH students.  

"I am tested for COVID-19 every Wednesday. Students test once a week."  

Even with the limited testing protocol, Henry feels UVM made the right choice in reopening, and is optimistic with students participating in on-campus activities.   

"I feel a hell of a lot safer on UVM’s campus than I would on other college campuses," she said. 

According the The Vermont Cynic, UVM’s student-led newspaper, UVM’s target start date for the spring semester is Feb. 1. Henry is optimistic that UVM can reach that goal.  

"I feel like we’re on a good path to get there," she said. 

Universities in New England have each established rigid protocols in order to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Unlike numerous schools in the south such as the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) that have had to shut down within days of reopening, many schools in New England remain on track to contain COVID-19 and finish their academic semesters in person.