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COVID Test Forms Ask Unnecessary Questions, Why?

Like those at most colleges and universities, Beloit College students have gotten quite accustomed to the COVID-19 nasal swab test. We do it so often here that it’s become routine to most of us. Filling out the pre-test form has become a part of that routine, to the point where we don’t fully think about the questions we are answering.

Coming back from winter break, a few stood out to me, mainly the questions asking for race and biological sex. The required responses seemed binary, especially sex which literally only allows for Male or Female. When the dominant culture on campus is generally more inclusive than this, the trans exclusion in this is a little surprising. For students who are still transitioning or have completed their transition, this question might bring on some anxiety when the authenticity of their gender and biological sex doesn’t always fit within that binary.

Health and Wellness Director Tara Girard, both the Race and Biological Sex questions were added to the testing form last semester. Beloit’s testing partner, Tempus, is “required by each state to submit this information state electronic disease database in a de-identified manner.” If the question is left blank, whoever enters the data is forced to make assumptions since they are required for online test submissions. Tempus has reported they have twice tried to request more response options, and both times were denied by insurance companies and the states.

This presents a different type of ethical problem. Not only are they presenting limited options that exclude the realities of many students, but they are also essentially being forced to answer the question or have their sex pressumed for them later on. 

In addition to making students uncomfortable when they come in for a COVID test, it possibly skews the data. When there is so little known information about the Coronavirus, it becomes vital to collect thorough, detailed research and data, and trans identifying people should be included in that. Excluding the nuances in biology is not only extremely transphobic, but it also leaves a lot of information unknown, which takes away the possibility of developing life saving procedures. Excluding trans people from medical research implies that their lives aren’t valued at all, which to put it simply, is dehumanizing. 

More generally speaking, students were not made aware of these required questions when the partnership with tempus was made. Should students really be made to answer questions regarding their identities if they don’t feel comfortable doing so? This information is collected by the state governments and insurance companies. Students, especially students of color and BIPOC often are hesitant to participate in government research (understandably so to anyone who has studied American history), so it’s unfair to strong-arm them into answering these questions without the transparency of how the information is being used.

Unfortunately, these answers only create new questions. What have Beloit Administration and Tempus done to advocate on behalf of students? Is there anything they can do to obtain answers for students? Why won’t the states approve more responses?

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