Lack of communication surrounding UMD’s COVID-19 tests has left some feeling unsupported

A person self-administers their COVID-19 test at the stadium on Sept. 15, 2020. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

At about 11:40 p.m. on Sept. 3, a notification popped up on Allie Cohen’s phone, alerting her to check MyPortfolio, a patient portal managed by the University of Maryland Medical Center. 

When Cohen opened the site, she felt a rush of shock and fear: She had tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, she spent hours on the phone being jostled from person to person at the university. Not only did she learn that it’s not the standard operating procedure for a student to receive a text message when they test positive, but no official could find her test result. She felt like she had no one to turn to.

Eventually, skeptical about the university’s testing infrastructure, Cohen got a rapid test and two PCR coronavirus tests off-campus. They all came back negative. But despite the stress receiving a positive test result caused Cohen — she has asthma, and she spent six days quarantined in her bedroom from her roommates — she said she’s more upset by the lack of support she received from the university.

Regardless of whether they did make a mistake, it’s more of a problem that there was no one there to help me and get to the bottom of this,” said Cohen, a senior marketing and operations management and business analytics major.

According to the university’s COVID-19 testing information page, results usually take about three days to be processed. The page also states that a student will receive a call from the University Health Center if they test positive for the virus. 

Cohen isn’t the only student who didn’t experience the advertised process after receiving a test at the university — others have also reported struggling with similar administrative issues in accessing their results and expressed similar concerns about the school’s testing system.

These issues had been playing out in the background while a student living in the Sigma Kappa chapter house was incorrectly told she’d tested positive for the coronavirus — her test result was actually negative — due to a “mix-up” at the University Health Center. In all, 14 university-administered test results were miscommunicated.

In response to an email from The Diamondback describing student concerns, a university spokesperson noted that the MyPortfolio patient portal is managed by UMMC. This university does not have access to that portal, spokesperson Hafsa Siddiqi wrote.

In an emailed statement to The Diamondback, University of Maryland, Baltimore spokesperson Kevin Kelly described how multiple institutions have been working together to provide coronavirus testing, which is “an incredibly complex undertaking that requires constant refinement.” 

[Students in Denton Hall advised to restrict activity, monitor symptoms for 14 days]

Like Cohen, students Ellie Brown and Colin Skeen got tested on the campus in late August after returning to the university. 

Brown, a senior family science and public policy major, got tested Aug. 24 with her roommates and watched as the university sent them emails notifying them of their negative results within six days. After eight days of not receiving any results, Brown called the hotline number provided by the university on her testing day so she could receive her activation code for her MyPortfolio account.

After a 15-minute wait on the line, Brown opted for the hotline’s call back option. She never received a call back, so she called again the next day and waited. 

The operator Brown spoke with told her to bypass the activation code and provide him with some information so he could release her results over the phone, she said. However, when Brown relayed her name and address, the operator told her that the address was incorrect and gave her an activation code. Brown then accessed her account and saw the address associated with it was one she had lived at 15 years ago. 

Brown said it took nine days total to receive her negative result.

Skeen, like Brown, also had an incorrect address on file that prevented him from accessing his results. The senior bioengineering major was confused about how to access his results, so he called the hotline number provided at testing to ask for the activation code, he said.

After Skeen was told the address he provided didn’t match the one on file, the operator on the phone had Skeen guess several different addresses to retrieve his results. But when Skeen asked to provide his Social Security number or driver’s license instead, he was told that he couldn’t do that. He wasn’t given his access code and had to wait until the university emailed him about a week later, he said. 

Skeen said he extended his quarantine and didn’t leave his apartment, even to go to the grocery store, until he had his negative result.

[Stress, bad food and flooding: What it’s like to be a UMD student in quarantine housing]

Many of the issues that have been causing trouble in reporting students’ results could be addressed during the registration process, according to Kelly. Adjustments were recently made to the process that will ensure registration data is received before testing events, so any gaps in the data can be addressed, Kelly wrote. 

To receive an activation code for MyPortfolio, students should provide an email address, Kelly wrote. Additionally, a duplicate chart may be created if a student’s parent’s home address is used to register instead of their College Park address or if they already have an account in the system using their parent’s insurance and they use an address not on file, Kelly wrote. 

“We have been working closely with each of our clients – including University of Maryland, College Park – to improve these processes and ensure a seamless experience for all involved,” Kelly wrote. 

While Skeen wished there was another way to access his test result, such as being able to answer a security question or provide other information, he understood the university could make a mistake with the high volume of testing, he said.

Skeen is planning to get tested by the university in the next round of testing because he doesn’t have a car to access off-campus testing. He doesn’t know what to do except hope the issue with his address will be straightened out with the next round of tests.

“It would be nice to have somebody to go to or somewhere to turn when something goes wrong,” Skeen said. 

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