Opinion | Don’t allow unvaccinated students to opt out of COVID testing

Monday, Sept. 14, ETHS sent out an email alerting students that they are able to opt out of routine COVID-19 testing done with the new University of Illinois SHIELD program. This would result in students doing a saliva test, during school, that would work to track and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Vaccinated students are not required to take COVID tests at all. Unvaccinated students began weekly COVID tests the week of Oct. 11. This will be required for students who have not provided proof of vaccination, 23 percent of ETHS students, according to the statistics presented by the ETHS COVID dashboard, that wish to participate in extracurricular activities as well as athletics. 

But unvaccinated students that do not participate in activities can opt out of SHIELD COVID-testing. 

This causes a level of concern. By allowing unvaccinated students to opt out of COVID testing, it would put all people in the ETHS building at risk of getting COVID, endangering their health and livelihoods. Vaccinated people can still contract the virus. It is especially risky for those who either are vulnerable to COVID or have family members that are vulnerable to COVID. This is a concern I know I have, given both my parents are vulnerable due to their ages. I do not want to be putting myself or them in any harm, due to a lack of information that students have regarding their susceptibility to the virus. 

This is not a call to mandate vaccinations, as there is still a lack of vaccination information for those with autoimmune disorders and other various health ailments; however, it is simply a reminder of the impacts that opting out of COVID testing can have on the greater school community, which could be drastic. 

“Some parents are adamant about their students not being vaccinated and not being tested. The only unfortunate thing about that is that they are considered a close contact, as an unvaccinated kid was not testing,” says Principal and Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell. “The precautions and mitigation that we’d have to take is a little bit more extreme.”

ETHS has also failed to provide further clarification on the SHIELD COVID testing, specifically in what it means for ETHS. There is little information for students in terms of how the SHIELD testing will impact them. There is no information on location or the impact it will have for students in extracurriculars and athletics. These are questions that are up in the air. Students have been emailed a list of common questions regarding the SHIELD protocol, along with their answers, but that is specifically from the SHIELD testing program, not ETHS. This causes further worry and concern because of the lack of complete transparency between the people within the building and the administration’s plan.

“Right now there’s no authority to force people to do it [get vaccinated]. There is authority for adults, that you’re aware of that, the governor has said that all school staff have to be vaccinated or retested in order to continue to work, but with students at the moment it’s different. And fortunately we have minimal students who are opting out to saying ‘I don’t want to be tested’, if they’ve been given the opportunity,”says Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. 

While SHIELD is relatively new for Illinois schools and ETHS, the plan should have been finalized for ETHS prior to sending out the email to notify students. It is understandable to want to be proactive in notifying students and families, though a more beneficial decision would have been to wait in order for students and families to receive the plan in total, rather than only a percentage. 

Furthermore, it is an oversight of ETHS to make such a decision requiring solely unvaccinated students to receive weekly COVID testing. This should be a mandate for most, if not all, students. Vaccinated people can still get COVID-19, but the symptoms simply look different. I have even known one vaccinated person who had COVID, in which their only symptom was being tired. It was due to a weekly COVID test that they realized they had it, allowing them to quarantine and not put anybody at risk. ETHS should adopt a similar model, having students and faculty take regular COVID tests. This is because of the various interactions people will have that could amount to them getting exposed. The more proactive we, as a community, can be, in terms of COVID-19, the more security and safety we can all feel in going back to the building each and everyday. 

Mandatory testing would be a precautionary measure, that ultimately would be seen as an inconvenience by many. People would be irritated to take time out of their day to get a COVID test, finding it to be gratuitous. Yet, it is worth it in order to protect the livelihoods and health of all those in the ETHS community and beyond.