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As Harvard Pilots Self-Administered COVID-19 Testing, Contracted Employees Decry Unequal Access

A Securitas guard checks in near Widener Gate. Harvard maintains security stations at various locations throughout campus.
A Securitas guard checks in near Widener Gate. Harvard maintains security stations at various locations throughout campus. By Abdur B. Rehman
By Davit Antonyan, Crimson Staff Writer

After the University announced last week it will require Harvard affiliates to undergo self-administered, unobserved COVID-19 testing, some contracted staff said they worry for their safety due to infrequent screening.

Testing requirements vary according to how long, for what purpose, and in what capacity affiliates are visiting campus. They will pick up testing kits at a designated spot, conduct the tests in the privacy of their own home, and drop them off at collection sites across campus.

In addition to mandatory COVID-19 testing, University guidance requires on-campus affiliates to complete an electronic Crimson Clear attestation each day, affirming that they are not experiencing symptoms of the virus.

The announcement follows U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for more streamlined testing procedures. Previously, the University required students and staff to complete coronavirus tests under professional observation.

Undergraduate students living on campus began the new protocol on Friday, and Harvard said it would be phased in for all other authorized affiliates over the next two weeks.

However, some privately contracted employees are raising concerns they have not been getting tested as frequently as directly hired Harvard employees — even though the University makes no explicit distinction in testing provisions.

Aryt Alasti, a Harvard security guard employed by multinational contractor Securitas, wrote in an email that he had not received any communication about testing requirements, even as Harvard broadens testing requirements.

“Private-contractor workers have not been getting tested,” Alasti wrote. “Whether those of such workers who have tested positive are reported to Harvard is unknown to them, as there has been no communication on the subject.”

Still, the University affirms that whether employees are directly hired or privately contracted has no impact on who gets tested for COVID-19.

According to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain, COVID-19 testing continues to be phased in across all students and personnel authorized to live on campus or be on campus for a work or academic purpose — including contract workers — for more than 4 hours per week.

Roxana Rivera, the vice president of branch 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union — the union that represents much of Harvard’s custodial and security personnel — said all of the union’s employees have been endangering their health while working for Harvard amid the crisis.

“Throughout this pandemic — including at its height in Massachusetts this Spring — the 1,000 janitors and security officers we represent at Harvard have been risking their lives to keep the community safe, regardless of whether they’re employed directly by Harvard or by a contractor,” Rivera said.

She added that Harvard should work to ensure safety for all of its workers — contracted or not — especially as the fall semester begins.

“It’s crucial for these workers’ safety, the health of their families, and the entire Cambridge community that the university provides accessible testing for all, and that contractors fully support that,” Rivera said. “We are committed to ensuring that our workers are as safe and respected as possible during this unprecedented time.”

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at davit.antonyan@thecrimson.com.

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