URI honors community members who add work at COVID-19 testing centers to their regular duties

With essential ‘volunteer’ support, University administers 100,000th test, continues in-person classes

KINGSTON, R.I. — Feb. 22, 2021 — As hundreds of University of Rhode Island students lined up Wednesday (Feb. 17)  around lunchtime to get their COVID-19 surveillance tests, they probably wondered what all the fuss was about.

Balloons were strewn around the Memorial Union Atrium, and cookies and Keaney Blue Health Services water bottles were offered to students and those working at the testing center.

The fuss was a celebration of University employees who have added to their regular job duties to work at the testing center, and a chance to mark the 100,000th COVID-19 test administered by the University.

While the testing centers in the Union and at temporary sites set up for fall and spring move-in have been run by University Health Services and Emergency Management, the University could never have built such a robust testing program without employees who volunteered at the centers in addition to doing their regular jobs.

“This is what happens when everyone works together for the good of our students and the entire community,” said Ellen Reynolds, assistant vice president of Health and Wellness and director of Health Services, as she strung balloons around the atrium.

Jennifer Hodshon, associate director of Health Services and operations section chief for COVID-19 testing at the University, said she organized the celebration to honor the commitment of so many URI employees to the health and safety of their community.

“Our people have shown that they care deeply about our students and their ability to remain on campus for classes and other activities,” Hodshon said. “In all kinds of weather they have made their way to our testing sites at the Union, the Ryan Center parking lot and Keaney Gymnasium. And they greet everyone, students, faculty and staff,  with a smile and reassuring words. The University is fortunate to have such selfless individuals.”

Tiverton resident Jack Zmich, a chemical engineering major with a pharmaceutical track, finished his test Wednesday, and was surprised when cheers broke out around him. Health Services staff members smiled and walked over to him, offering him cookies and a water bottle, and asked him to pose for a picture. He was the recipient of the 100,000th test.

“This has been managed perfectly,” he said. “It’s great to have an on-campus testing site, where you don’t have to wait to schedule a test. You can just show up. I am a big believer in all of the health guidelines, participating in frequent testing, wearing a mask and physical distancing. I get really frustrated when I see people without masks. If we follow the guidance, we can control this.”

Tracey Kim is all smiles
Pharmacy student Tracey Kim is all smiles behind her mask as she talks about the well run and welcoming COVID-19 surveillance testing site at the Memorial Union. URI photo by Nora Lewis.

Tracey Kim, a fourth-year pharmacy student from Scottsdale, Arizona, was all smiles after receiving a Keaney Blue Health Services water bottle.

“This is a very efficient operation, and getting a test is a good way to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Kim said. “Plus scheduling appointments through e-Campus makes it easy to remember to get tested.”

When asked about the URI employees who are volunteering at the center, Kim said it shows that they understand the extent of the problem.

“They are willing to put in the extra time to make sure we stay safe,” Kim said. “This engagement helps them relate to us and us to them.

James Morris, head equipment manager for the Department of Athletics, said the testing effort has been fantastic for all students and particularly important for student-athletes.

Senior nursing major Abby Canning
Senior nursing major Abby Canning is one of many students who received COVID-19 surveillance tests last Wednesday. URI photo by Nora Lewis.

“Our student-athletes want to compete and train, and these frequent testing opportunities give them a great sense of security,” he said. “They can get tested three to four times a week. We can’t thank the volunteers enough for what they are doing.”

Abby Canning, a senior nursing major from Suffield, Connecticut, said she appreciates being able to get a test at any time through the day.

“The fact that all students are required to get tested helps keep all

Graduate student Caroline Eastus
Graduate student Caroline Eastus talks about her experience at the Memorial Union testing center. URI photo by Nora Lewis

of us safer,” she said. “It alleviates stress, and it’s nice that all of the volunteers are in a good mood.”

Master’s degree student in exercise science Caroline Eastus of Redding, Connecticut, said the process of getting tested is a pleasant experience.

“I think because it is so well organized, students are largely compliant with the requirement to get tested every other week. It’s also great that off-campus students are also included in mandatory testing. I think this is reassuring for faculty members and local residents.”

The eyes of Dr. Christopher Nasin, medical director of Health Services, twinkled as he smiled behind his mask.

“It’s extraordinary to think that our daily testing throughput is around 2,000 tests,” Nasin said. “If we said last semester that we would be doing 2,000 tests a day, people would have looked at us like we had two heads.

“But the muscle memory we built during the fall semester led us to where we are today,” URI’s top doc said. “The kind of teamwork evident here and across the University is what makes things happen. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that people from every corner of the University came together to make this happen.”