Since the pandemic began, Texas A&M has seen a plethora of changes regarding COVID-19 testing.
Director of Student Health Services (SHS) Dr. Martha Dannenbaumn said The department is currently offering two different testing options — a free oral swab by Curative Inc. and a self-referral nasal test through Beutal covered by the CARES Act amendment to the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA). Both tests are self-administered.
The CARES Act adapted the FFCRA, requiring that all insurance companies cover COVID-19 testing fees and waive cost-sharing to allow for the affordable testing of all individuals, regardless of ability to pay. This means all testing, including that on campus, is free of charge as long as an individuals insurance covers self-adminitered tests.
Students, faculty and staff with or without symptoms can sign up to visit the Curative Inc. testing tent in Lot 27 next to Beutel at tamus.curativeinc.com, where they can choose a time slot to get tested. The tent has the capacity to perform hundreds of approximately three-minute oral tests per day, providing students their results in 48-72 hours.
“I think many people are concerned there’s probably not going to be availability or it’s going to be super crowded or they won’t be able to get in,” Dannenbaum said. “The availability of testing across the community has improved significantly in the last three months. Because it’s a scheduled system, it actually moves very quickly, especially in the tent.”
The self-referral nasal test option requires a trip inside Beutel, where an individual will be screened for symptoms, then led to a testing room where they are supervised as they perform the nasal swab. Students can expect their results from this test within 48-72 hours, as well.
Before the CARES Act was passed and testing became readily available, SHS offered limited antibody testing for $100 at Beutel for asymptomatic individuals. At the time, naso-phyrangeal swabbing was offered through the Respiratory Clinic for those who had a suspected case of the coronavirus.
In May, industrial distribution junior Cherie Anderson was tested on campus after experiencing swollen tonsils, fatigue and headaches.
“It was really good, the precautions and everything they were taking,” Anderson said. “When I was in the waiting room, or in my room where I was getting tested, they had scrubs and they were putting them on and taking them off every time and throwing them away. Everyone was so nice and they were really helpful discussing my options.”
In the spring, the only testing available at Beutel for symptomatic cases was the naso-pharyngeal swabbing, which collects from deep inside the nose. These tests were originally charged to a person’s insurance or student account, but the Health Center is looking to give money back to those who paid out-of-pocket back early spring.
“They were still saying, ‘No, you still have to do the naso-pharyngeal or NP collection,’ and that’s the one that’s very uncomfortable for most people. We are not doing that testing anymore, since the CDC has said we don’t need to, so that’s a win for sure,” Dannenbaum said. “We were first getting the insurance paying 100 percent in April when the federal mandate was done so we’re trying to help the students that may have had to pay out of pocket before we had the option to file insurance for them.”
International studies senior Areala Mendoza got tested in early August using the free oral swabs before her roommates moved in.
“I wanted to get tested because I had gone on an out-of-state trip with my family and I knew I wanted to come back to College Station,” Mendoza said. “I knew A&M had free tests, so in order to get that I had to come here and keep myself quarantined in my room while I waited for the results to happen.”
However, when Mendoza went to schedule her test, the scheduling website was down for the free Curative Inc. test. This type of testing is not affiliated with the A.P. Beutel Health Center, so when Mendoza called Beutel to try and get a time slot, she accidentally signed up for the self-referral nasal swab from Beutel, which could have cost her $100 because her insurance doesn’t cover self-administered tests.
“The patient services were really sweet. They were like, ‘I’m sorry for the confusion. We can set you an appointment up in like 15 minutes for the free test,’” Mendoza said. “It was fixed really quickly but there was some confusion on that end.”
Dannenbaum said the University System will offer 15,000 free oral tests every month through Curative Inc. to be distributed between A&M System schools in Texas. It is unclear exactly how many of these tests will be allotted to the flagship campus, but Dannenbaum said College Station will have the largest allotment.
Recreation, park and tourism sciences senior Peyton Liebler said the Curative Inc. testing process was simple and fast, giving him peace of mind after visiting family near a COVID-19 hotspot.
“In this whole situation, we’ve been seeing how everybody has a part to do with this. Whether it’s wearing a mask, socially distanced areas or just respecting people’s boundaries with everything, we are seeing how far people are willing to go,” Liebler said. “Even if you aren’t showing symptoms or think you don’t have COVID, it’s just nice to come and know instead of constantly wondering and going into a space worrying about spreading it to somebody or worrying about getting it.”
With the FFCRA mandating waived fees for COVID-19 testing, SHS will continue to provide diagnostic procedures in various forms throughout the semester. For more information, visit the SHS website.
“The goal is that regardless of your circumstance, your insurance status, your financial status, your faculty, staff or student status, you can access COVID testing with the least amount of barriers possible,” Dannenbaum said. “We are open so if people are here now, they are eligible to come get tested.”