Exempted and exposed: What to do when you can’t take a PCR test?

A large blue "COVID-19 Antigen Testing Site" sign stands in front of a large white tent.
Across the 5Cs, there are varying policies over whether students should test if exposed within the 90-day recovery window from their own bout with the virus. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

For many students, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases at the 5Cs also meant an increase in exposures to positive individuals. But some close contacts found themselves in a predicament: students who have tested positive for the virus within the last 90 days are barred from taking a PCR test provided by Student Health Services.

So, what should students do if they think they’ve been re-exposed within three months of their own bout with the virus?

Citing Los Angeles County public health guidelines, The Claremont Colleges Services spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa told TSL via email that students who’ve had the virus are not recommended to test within this time period unless symptomatic, regardless of exposure.

If a student develops symptoms, Muna-Landa said they should consult a medical professional “to ask if a one-time repeat test would be of diagnostic value to the clinician.” The type of test would be up to the medical provider to decide, but most likely would be an antigen test, according to Muna-Landa.  

The COVID-19 teams at both Scripps College and Pitzer College said via email that students should not test with a PCR test until after the 90 days have elapsed.

Referring to SHS’s guidance, Pomona College Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said students in this situation should be in touch with SHS medical personnel and have them decide whether a test is advised or not.

 

“Any student deemed a close contact, whether within their 90 day period or not, should contact SHS,” Hinkson said via email. “It is crucial that medical staff from SHS assess the situation and that students don’t make their own decisions based on their reading of an antigen test.”

In an email sent to Pomona students, Hinkson wrote that, per Pomona’s community agreement, even those who are exempted from the testing requirement must contact students affairs staff or SHS and self-quarantine immediately following symptoms or close contact notifications.

At Pitzer College, students who are still within the 90 day recovery period should closely monitor themselves for symptoms, according to college Nurse Zephyr Dowd-Lukesh. If asymptomatic, no further steps need be taken, but if students do exhibit symptoms, Zephyr recommended taking an antigen test.

“These tests are not provided through Pitzer at this time; however, if students have the SHS insurance plan, then they may receive eight free antigen tests from Hendricks Pharmacy in the Claremont Village,” Dowd-Lukesh said. “Funding for students in need of antigen tests will be evaluated [on a] case by case basis.”

The same applies to Scripps students, according to Shawnice Ross, COVID-19 student affairs service coordinator. Students’ health insurance companies may cover the cost of antigen tests, Ross said in an email.

Contact tracers from Scripps told Ross that students exposed again within their 90 day period are provided with LA County quarantine guidelines if asymptomatic, she said. Currently, that means if the student does develop symptoms, they would need to schedule an appointment with SHS.

“The medical team will evaluate the student to assess the situation and make the decision if it is a new infection or not,” Ross said.

With varying recommendations and policies across the 5Cs, some students expressed confusion over what to do upon exposure within the three-month test exemption window. 

When Desa Bolger SC ’23 found out she had been exposed again, after having contracted COVID over winter break, she was unsure which steps to take. To keep everyone around her safe, Bolger wanted to make sure she hadn’t gotten COVID again.

When she called the Scripps COVID hotline, the nurse on call told her the school could not provide her with an antigen test, as they are used only for students being released from quarantine. Still, she said, the nurse confirmed that while it was less likely that she would get COVID again within that time period, the risk that she could be re-exposed and potentially transmit the virus still remained.

“It just seemed like it was a weird situation,” Bolger said. “My confusion came from the fact that I was told that I could get COVID within those 90 days, but I couldn’t get a test from the school.”

For Alexandra Scott PO ’25, antigen testing proved to be crucial. Scott had tested positive Feb. 22, and was thus exempted from testing. After being notified of possible COVID exposures and feeling slightly symptomatic, Scott decided to isolate and test herself with at-home antigen kits — leading to another positive result April 8.

“Once I tested positive on an at-home rapid test, I contacted SHS [to ask for an official antigen test] … but the facility was already closed and it was a Friday, so they said I could not get tested and sent me back to my dorm.” Scott said, “As a result, I had to take multiple at-home tests to confirm my positive result. I feel that Pomona’s deans were very supportive throughout the process, but I did not feel this same support from SHS.”

Scott was ultimately made to quarantine at the designated off-campus Oasis apartments.

“I believe the 5Cs should make antigen testing available to students who have had exposures and are experiencing symptoms within their 90 days … [and it] should be available on the weekends,” Scott added.

Bolger agreed. Although she ordered her own antigen test online, Bolger noted that doing so isn’t an option for everyone, and so the lack of access to tests could present a problem. 

“It just makes it harder to be sure that you’re not getting other people sick,” she said, “especially as a lot of people get towards the end of their 90 days and [catching COVID again] becomes more likely, and with new variants.”

Even so, Bolger said she is very grateful for the access to PCR tests that students have at the 5Cs, with the ability to test weekly. 

“That’s a great thing to have, and I think if we can expand it into rapid [tests], that would be helpful as well,” she said.

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