Colleges That Require Virus-Screening Tech Struggle to Say Whether It Works

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By the end of the semester, however, only about one-third of the 1,200 students on campus were scanning the bar codes. Ethan Child, a Bridgewater senior, said he had scanned the QR codes but also skipped them when walking by in the rain.

“I think it’s reasonable to ask students to do it — whether or not they’ll actually do it is another thing,” he said. “People might just pass it by.”

Administrators discovered that the key to hindering coronavirus outbreaks was not technology but simply frequent testing — once a week, for on-campus students — along with contact tracing, said Chris Frazer, the executive director of the university’s wellness center.

“I’m glad we didn’t spend an exorbitant amount of money” on tech tools, Dr. Frazer said. “We found what we need is tests and more tests.”

The location-tracking tools ultimately proved most useful for “peace of mind,” he added, and to confirm the findings of contact tracers, who often learned much more about infected students’ activities by calling them than by examining their location logs.

Other schools that discovered location tracking was not a useful pandemic safety tool decided not to deploy it at all.

At Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, administrators said they had planned to log students’ locations when they used campus Wi-Fi for possible later use in contact tracing. But the school never introduced the system, said Chris Barlow, the school’s health services director, partly because administrators realized that many students had contracted the virus off campus, in situations where public health measures like mask wearing were not followed.

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