COVID-19 Testing—What to Expect Upon Arrival in MIT
Disclaimer: This article aims to inform students of the measures being taken on campus to ensure safety during the pandemic. It does not serve as a proclamation of support towards either side of the debate on the offline resumption of college.
In these times of uncertainty, MIT is undertaking precautionary measures to keep students and staff safe. Seventh semester MIT students have been recalled to Manipal, soon to be followed by the fifth-semester students. A major mandate that has been implemented for staff and students alike is the RT-PCR test. The RT-PCR test is one of the quickest ways to test an individual for COVID-19. A nasopharyngeal swab—better known as the swab test—is performed, the sample is collected, and the PCR machine detects the presence of the viral code.
Taking the RT-PCR Test
A temporary testing centre has been set up at NLH (New Lecture Hall), serving those who arrive on campus without having taken the RT-PCR test 72 hours before travelling. The entire testing centre is carefully sanitised, and doctors and individuals involved in the testing wear PPE kits or face shields. Those who arrive for testing must wear face masks. MIT is ready to run about 400 to 500 RT-PCR tests per day. About 180 to 200 staff members and those working on campus are currently being tested every day.
When a student reaches the testing centre, there’s a QR code provided through which they have to fill a simple form. A token is issued on filling the form. The process of issuing tokens starts at 8 AM, while the testing commences at 10 AM and is open till 5 PM. People to be tested will be called token number wise. Doctors from KMC and government officials are present for collecting samples and actively guide the students on how to go about the entire process.
Those to be tested are seated in the waiting room and are made to sit a row apart, leaving a gap of one chair between each other. They are then called to the testing room, where the authorities test only one person at a time. Even though there are adequate facilities to test every student, students are still advised to take the RT-PCR 72 hours before travelling, and not once they arrive on campus.
For students arriving on campus without having taken the test, quarantine accommodations have been made until they are confirmed to have tested negative for COVID-19. Girls will be accommodated in Block 7, and boys in Block 16 and 17. If a student’s test report result comes out as positive, they will be sent to the isolation centre at the TMA Pai hospital in Udupi for 17 days. The hospital has an entire section marked exclusively for MAHE students.
Issuing of the Clearance Card
Those who have tested negative for COVID-19—be it by RT-PCR testing from home or on campus—will then have to report to the ground floor of IC (Innovation Centre) for their clearance card. The clearance card is mandatory to access any area on campus, be it a day scholar or a hostel resident. Every student must have their clearance card issued before availing any campus facility such as the hostels, messes, or the academic blocks. Students living on campus are advised to go directly to IC upon arriving in Manipal, before going to their hostels.
To receive the clearance card, students must produce their RT-PCR test results, the consent form signed by the parent, and two passport size photographs. The doctors are present from 8 am to 8 pm to issue and stamp the clearance card. For those who arrive outside this time period, caretakers will be present to guide the students through the entire procedure, although the doctors themselves will not be there.
“Right now, there are very few people on campus, so people aren’t roaming around in big groups like it used to be, at most three to four people. I guess college might get stricter regarding these things after more people show up,” said Abhijit, a seventh-semester student who recently returned to campus.
Hostels, Messes, and Academic Blocks
The campus will be locked down at 9 pm before which all hostel residents will have to return to their blocks, while day scholars will have to leave campus. The seating arrangement in the messes has been changed. Most of the tables have been removed, while chairs are re-arranged so that social distancing can be maximised. There will be markers placed on the floor for students to queue up for their food safely. All the messes will be open and are currently being sanitised. Thermal scanning and sanitisation will be conducted at regular points in the hostels, messes, and academic blocks.
The hostel rooms have not been opened or cleaned during this period. Once the student arrives and the room is opened, cleaning and sanitisation is expected to take about 30 minutes. Students who have left their key with the caretakers may call the warden and request for their room to be cleaned ahead of arrival. This facility would be granted at the discretion of each block’s respective warden.
Classes will not have more than 30 students each, and the number is expected to be even fewer in labs. There will be markers placed where students will be permitted to sit. The entire area and lab equipment will be appropriately sanitised. There’ll be an increased number of batches for labs to ensure that there are fewer students. The faculty will be equipped with face shields, while students and staff alike will be provided with gloves while handling lab equipment. Face masks will be compulsory for everyone, at all times.
Student Apprehensions and Concerns
Students remain apprehensive about returning to MIT at this time. In a conversation with Arjun Sharma, a 4th year ICE student, he mentioned a few points of concern that have been echoing in students’ minds, and how the college can improve upon the measures taken to combat them.
“I would suggest that the college take the following measures to increase the standards of safety:
1. Have separate lab batches and rooms during end semester examinations for those who stay outside. Ensure that the students do not crowd the corridors before and after an exam, maybe through the staggering exit as entry would be much more difficult to regulate.
2. Conduct RT-PCR tests once in 14 days for those who live on the campus, including staff, to check the spread also it will reassure parents and the students.
3. N95 masks, not the regular cloth masks for the mess staff should be provided and replaced once in a week.
4. A group of students or preferably a faculty for each mess should be appointed to ensure mask-wearing is enforced in the messes. If anyone violates the rule, they should be made a note of and reported upon failing to adhere to a warning.
5. Campus entry and exit time should be further reduced to avoid parties and other super spreader events and also limit the contact of students with the outside environment. Only in case of a medical or travel emergency, or after seeking permission from the warden should the student be allowed after the reduced campus perm time.
6. Hostel perm time within the campus should be as late as possible, preferably around 11 pm, to ensure smaller batches in the messes. As far as possible students should be allowed to pack their food in their own tiffins instead of the plastic covers the institute charges for right now. It will reduce the spread of the virus, if there is an outbreak, to a good extent and even possibly prevent it. It would also hasten the speed of the queue as students will take their food and get going within 10 to 15 minutes.
7. If it’s not happening already, the administration should request the authorities to ask club and restaurant owners to keep a list of students entering, which would help in contact tracing.”
Overall, MIT has implemented a plethora of measures to ensure the safety of students and staff, yet some feel that it is not enough. Students are advised to adhere to the social distancing guidelines, and take the appropriate safety measures, be it on or off-campus. Precautionary testing and rules for social distancing are being implemented by the university, marking the offline resumption of students’ curriculum and campus life.