Although Loyola’s website says anyone visiting campus is required to be tested regularly for COVID-19, some people who work at the university — including more than a hundred custodians — haven’t been able to participate in the university’s COVID-19 testing program.
As part of its reopening plan, Loyola said it would require frequent COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff returning to campus and provide that testing through its partnership with SHIELD Illinois, The Phoenix reported. SHIELD Illinois is a testing and tracking program developed by the University of Illinois that provides Loyola saliva-based tests so the university can monitor cases COVID-19 in the university community, The Phoenix reported.
Anyone visiting campus is supposed to participate in this testing program in addition to complying with the other COVID-19 guidelines in place, such as mask wearing and social distancing, according to Loyola’s website.
However, not everyone in the Loyola community is fully enrolled in the testing program yet and hundreds who are enrolled aren’t complying with the testing requirements, The Phoenix recently learned.
Loyola Spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach said “a very small percentage” of employees weren’t included in the initial roll-out of surveillance testing but are expected to begin testing by March 28, more than ten weeks into the spring semester. Shymanski Zach wouldn’t give the specific percentage of employees who weren’t enrolled in the testing program.
“Due to some HIPAA and other privacy restrictions, there are a couple vendors whose employees are not yet enrolled, but the University is actively involved in conversation with its vendor partners to move their workforce into the surveillance testing program,” Shymanski Zach said in an email to The Phoenix.
The workers who aren’t being tested are overseen by other companies but work at Loyola’s campuses. This includes about 120 housekeeping workers employed by the janitorial company The Millard Group, who clean Loyola’s campuses, according to Hamlet Gonzalez, the director of campus operations within Loyola’s facilities department.
“It’s not something we’ve been neglecting to do,” Gonzalez said. “There’s just a lot more to do because we have to go through another company and get their buy-in, then from there make sure we have all these employee records handled since all of it is medical information.”
Other workers at Loyola who are employed by outside vendors include those who work in the mailroom and campus dining. Shymanski Zach wouldn’t answer questions about which workers specifically aren’t being tested but said some have “customer-facing” roles.
MySHIELD accounts — which are used to schedule testing appointments online — were created for the contractors March 16, according to Shymanski Zach. The Millard Group has been working with the housekeeping staff to activate their accounts and once that’s complete the employees will have access to Loyola’s testing program, Gonzalez said. Loyola expects all the contract employees to be fully enrolled in the program by March 28.
SEIU Local 1, the union that represents housekeeping workers, didn’t respond to requests for comment. UNITE HERE Local 1, the union that represents campus dining workers, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
As of publication, Loyola’s website still says, “Loyola will test its entire community regularly using a saliva-based test developed by University of Illinois” despite the fact some workers on campus weren’t a part of the program.
Shymanski Zach wouldn’t say why the website also says testing is required for “anyone who intends to be on campus, based on frequency,” while certain employees aren’t being tested.
“The University’s primary focus was on enrolling its thousands of faculty, staff, and students in surveillance testing,” Shymanski Zach said in an email to The Phoenix. “Due to unique challenges of enrolling non-University employees into the program, the contractors were able to be added to the program in March 2021.”
Loyola’s website also says testing is required for “all Loyola faculty, employees and students.”
“Contractors are not University employees by definition, but this phrasing does not purposefully exclude contract employees,” Shymanski Zach said.
Gonzalez said there have been less than five housekeeping workers who have taken time off due to COVID-19, but he couldn’t confirm if they tested positive for the virus. Contractors and vendors are asked to notify the university when an employee tests positive with the virus, according to Shymanski Zach.
Shymanski Zach said the university is aware of a small number of COVID-19 cases among the vendor community, but “none of those cases resulted in spread on campus.” Shymanski Zach said.
“No correlation or pattern was found when a vendor’s employee called off due to COVID-19-related matters,” Shymanski Zach said.
In addition to the contract workers who aren’t being tested by the university, Shymanski Zach said there are more than 500 people who aren’t complying with testing protocols. About 10 percent of students who live in residence halls — approximately 115 students — also aren’t being tested as frequently as the university requires.
“While our compliance numbers continue to improve — and for that we are grateful — on average, there are over 500 students, faculty, and staff who are visiting campus and not testing according to our required frequencies week after week,” Shymanski Zach said in an email to The Phoenix. “We continue to remain focused on increasing compliance among these populations.”
Shymanski Zach said community members who are enrolled in the program and don’t follow Loyola’s testing protocols lose building access privileges until they’ve received a negative result from one of Loyola’s tests. Students who live on campus won’t lose access to their assigned residence hall, she said. Students may also be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution while staff members and faculty may be referred to their supervisors, Shymanski Zach said.
When asked about concerns regarding the lack of clarity surrounding who’s being tested, Shymanski Zach said: “We share the concerns of our residential students, as testing is very important to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our community. As soon as we were able to add the vendor community to our surveillance testing program, we did.”
Shymanski Zach said planning for the testing program began in fall 2020 and enrollment instructions were sent out to faculty, staff and students in November.