The best time to take a COVID test is just after lunch. No lines, no waiting, no crowds – yet. It is a quarter to one on a dreary Wednesday afternoon – the designated day for residents in West Apartment J to get their mandatory weekly tests – and only two students wait outside the second-floor testing room in the Center for Global Studies and Human Development. The landing, once filled with tables and chairs, is now empty. The furniture sits stacked against the windows and walls like a makeshift barricade.
When the doors open at one o’clock, more students have lined up on the staircase. Six feet apart. Masks on. Unendingly silent. Students stream through the open doors and pick up the required paperwork on the round tables. They even get free pens for their trouble.
By the time the first students approach the workers at the computers, the line snakes around the room’s perimeter. Before any testing can be done, all students must register and receive the clear plastic sample bag and identification labels that will hold their used test swabs. Employees of Enzo Clinical Labs – the Farmingdale-based laboratory the university has partnered with – have erected a barrier between the line and the testing area to ensure privacy and extra protection. It’s one of those red movable safety barriers used at private parties and conventions. None of which can happen now.
The man at the first computer wears a light blue shirt and a mask underneath his broad nose. His ruddy face dwarfs the cloth. Nose completely exposed, he takes the students’ information and prints out their paperwork. None of his coworkers seem to care that his displaced mask ignores the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear face coverings over your nose and mouth. They say nothing to him, but one student on his line remains an extra step back. Just to be on the safe side.
The testers, in their scrubs and gowns and protective gear, pull on new gloves for every test. They go through hundreds every day now that all students on campus require weekly tests. One by one, the students disappear behind the red barrier and sit still as suited-up volunteers scrape the backs of their nasal cavities with long-handled cotton swabs. The students say thank you and take tissues and pumps of hand sanitizer, and then they leave.
They’ll be back next Wednesday to do it all over again.