Temple staff facilitate spring semester COVID-19 testing

Testing workers helped students and faculty self-administer more than 70,000 COVID-19 tests this semester.

Nicole Dilenno, 21, a COVID-19 testing worker from Burlington, NJ, sits behind her station at the testing site in the Great Court of Mitten Hall on March 15. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Erica Townsend came across a position to administer COVID-19 tests on Temple University’s career site one month ago and applied, knowing options in her physical therapy degree were slim. 

“There’s no jobs available,” Townsend said. “I’m sorry to say it, there’s just no options unless you want to work for Uber or Amazon.”

Townsend is one of the 27 temporary testing staff members Temple hired in preparation for the hybrid Spring 2021 semester. The testing staff, along with 10 student workers, manage the self-administered COVID-19 student testing locations at room 200ABC in the Howard Gittis Student Center and the Great Court in Mitten Hall, as well as faculty testing locations in Paley Hall, said Meghan Duffy, associate director of finance and administration. 

Students who are taking classes in person and live on or near Main Campus are required to be tested at least semi-weekly. Those who use campus facilities are required to be tested at least once a week this semester, The Temple News reported.

The university administered nearly 21,000 COVID-19 tests during the Fall 2020 semester and more than 70,000 COVID-19 tests so far in the Spring 2021 semester, Duffy said. 

“We have been able to identify some positive students and employees and because of that we’ve been able to assist them in quarantining and isolating and tracking, contacting anyone else, so we’ve really been able to prevent an outbreak happening,” said Duffy, who organized and manages the testing centers for Temple’s domestic campuses. 

Townsend, 35, the lead coordinator at the Student Center testing site who lives at Mifflin Street near 25th, begins her workday at 8 a.m. by wiping down tables students use to administer their tests while waiting for the technicians to set up the viles, masks and gloves so students can be tested quickly, she said.

Testing locations are open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are five to six employees at the Student Center and Mitten Hall locations on site each day, who sit behind plexiglass, checking students in and providing them the testing kit. 

Students take the vile and swab to one of the individual tables, spaced at least 6 feet apart, to test administer their test.

Students and faculty sign up for their own testing slots through the Student Health Services portal, so some days more students come to get tested than others, Townsend said.

When students come to get tested, workers check students in with their TU ID number, confirm the students’ contact information and scan their testing vile to ensure the test results are sent to the correct student, Townsend said.

Then they provide students with a nasal swab and vile and direct them to a table to self-administer their polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 test. Students are notified by email of their results within 24 to 48 hours if their results are negative, but Student Health Services will call them if they test positive. 

“It’s more or less to make sure social distancing, safety, cleanliness, supplies, questions, expediting people in and out,” Townsend said. “Students, they forget their masks, they’re not, you know, completing swabs correctly. If there are any issues and errors, try to triage them or tell them where to find the information if it’s things I can’t answer.”

Townsend is employed on a contract basis for the Spring 2021 semester, but once her contract ends, she will be on the search for another job, she said.

The university will decide over the summer if testing will be required for the Fall 2021 semester, Duffy wrote in an email to The Temple News. 

For Nicole Dilenno, 21, a testing worker who lives in Burlington, New Jersey, becoming a test worker at Mitten Hall gave her an opportunity to have a temporary job while she seeks employment in her field.

After Dileno graduated from the University of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Virginia, she decided to apply for a COVID-19 testing position at Temple after finding an advertisement for the position on Facebook through an agency recruiter, she said. 

If it’s a student’s first time being tested on campus, Dileno will walk them through the instructions for the nasal swab test, she said. But for most students, the process has become a weekly or twice-weekly routine.

“I’ve seen people twice a week for, since like this semester started in January,” Dileno said. “So I know a decent amount of students have in-person classes.”

Alexandra Diaz Morales, a junior art therapy major, usually schedules her two weekly tests for Mondays and Thursdays in the Student Center because she can scan her TU ID there rather than reading the numbers to the testing workers at the Mitten Hall location, she said. 

After eight weeks of being tested twice a week, self-administering a test is routine, Diaz Morales said. 

“The first time I came, they just told me what to do, but there’s signs everywhere that say what to do so I just kind of read the signs,” she said. “Since I’m doing it twice a week, I kind of got the hang of it at this point.” 

Dileno’s glad she can contribute to COVID-19 safety on campus and getting students back to in-person classes, she said.

“When I was a student, going to online classes was a hard transition, and I know most students prefer to be learning in person,” Dileno added. “Since we’re doing this, constantly testing and catching it early, and preventing the spread, it’s good that they can be in person.”

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