Some U.S. colleges are taking advantage of the convenience of vending machines – supplying them with COVID-19 tests instead of snacks as the infectious omicron variant continues to spread.
This comes as the current seven-day average for new positive cases in the U.S. hit 782,766 as of Jan. 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When students at the University of Utah began their Spring semester on Jan. 10, the college introduced several self-serve COVID-test vending machines alongside drop-off locations for the samples, according to a Twitter post shared by the university on Jan. 13.
“Our public health leaders started planning for the return to campus, and the spread of the omicron variant, at the end of fall semester,” school spokesperson Rebecca Walsh told McClatchy News. There are “nine self-serve testing sites” providing the PCR tests, she said.
“A self-serve testing program became a pivotal part of our efforts to preserve the health and safety of our campus with omicron’s rapid spread and the potential prevalence of asymptomatic infections,” Walsh added.
This is a free resource for asymptomatic enrolled students, faculty and staff as the school has other testing options for those who are symptomatic. Those asymptomatic are permitted to submit up to two samples per week, according to the Twitter post.
“Most receive results within 24 hours,” Walsh said.
The COVID-19 tests inside the machines offer saliva testing kits that require spitting in a tube, sealing it and dropping it off at a sample collection site, a school’s video explains online.
“It’s super convenient,” student Gabi Mortarotti told FOX 13. “And honestly it makes it a lot less of a hassle than having to go wait in line for hours on end.”
Vending machines with free COVID-19 tests have also popped up at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland for the spring semester, according to the school.
There, 12 machines contain PCR saliva tests available for faculty, staff and students, university spokesperson Megan Koeth, who manages the machines, told McClatchy News. Antigen tests will soon be offered by these vending machines as well.
“These changes will help keep our students in in-person learning and our staff and faculty on campus,” Koeth said.
“It’s our way of living with COVID.“
Some schools in California have had vending machines with COVID-19 tests for several months now.
“Between classes at UCLA, students might stop by an on-campus vending machine to grab a snack, a soda or, now, a COVID-19 test,” University of California, Los Angeles announced on Oct. 13.
The University of California San Diego had the vending machines installed in January 2021, according to CBS 8 San Diego.
San Diego State University began offering COVID-19 testing via vending machines on Aug. 30, 2021.
“The self-serve sites allow for quick pick-up and drop-off and less queueing/gathering,” Walsh said.
Other uses of vending machines in the fight against COVID-19
The company Wellness 4 Humanity installed a COVID-test vending machine at Oakland International Airport in California last February, Forbes reported. The airport said on Twitter it was the first U.S. airport to sell COVID-19 test kits in vending machines. The company has also installed its vending machines at locations in New York City in 2021, according to the New York Post.
Japan began selling COVID-19 tests through vending machines early in 2021, Reuters reported.
The University of Washington in Seattle offers other COVID-19 related resources through campus vending machines “such as masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and more,” according to the school.
Julia Marnin, McClatchy Washington Bureau