Northeastern to offer household COVID-19 testing for faculty and staff

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Employees at Northeastern’s Boston campus will soon be able to utilize the university’s robust COVID-19 testing program to monitor the health of their households. Faculty and staff can purchase take-home pool testing kits and return the swabs to be analyzed at the university’s state-of-the-art Life Sciences Testing Center. The program will be rolled out in the coming days and more details will be shared soon.

“As Northeastern faculty and staff are returning to campus, household testing provides people with the peace of mind to ensure their families are safe and healthy,” says Jared Auclair, who oversees the Life Sciences Testing Center in Burlington, Massachusetts. “This benefit will reduce the stress and time households have to take to find an appointment for a COVID-19 test as well as reduce the worry as folks await the results.”

The take-home kits will be available to each household once per week and will cost about $40 per kit. Anyone who shares a kitchen, bathroom, or living space is considered to be part of the same household.

“The household testing will allow employees to easily monitor the health of their families and allow prompt quarantine if anyone in the household gets infected,” says Sehyo Yune, director of Northeastern’s COVID-19 wellness team. “This is a benefit provided for employees, as the health of their families is the health of the Northeastern community.”

Here’s how it will work

Faculty and staff will be able to request household testing at the Cabot Testing Center. Employees must purchase an at-home testing kit online before visiting Cabot. Then, ahead of their own testing appointments, employees should visit the help desk at Cabot to pick up their at-home testing kit. The kits can be purchased online via a credit card. Details of how the online purchase can be made will be shared with faculty and staff in the coming days.

The kit includes one swab per person being tested at home, and one barcode per swab. The employee’s information will be printed on each barcode.

At home, the employee will instruct each household member on the appropriate swabbing technique: Insert the swab half an inch into the nostril, rotate the swab inside of both nostrils for 15 seconds each. Next, each person will place the swab, cotton-side first, inside an individual vial (as is the process in Cabot) and put the vial back into the kit.

Then, the employee will return the whole kit to Cabot and be tested again upon return. The household samples must be returned within 48 hours of swabbing—and ideally within 24 hours—to ensure accurate results from the lab.

All the swabs from the household will be processed as a single sample at the Life Sciences Testing Center, using the same gold-standard polymerase chain reaction test that is used for all tests from the Cabot and Huntington centers.

Unlike the individual tests that students, faculty, staff, and contract employees receive at the Cabot and Huntington testing centers, these pooled household tests are not used to diagnose an individual with COVID-19, Auclair says, but rather to monitor the health of a group of close contacts.

The ensuing result—negative or positive—is for the entire household. So, a positive result indicates that one or more people within the household has the virus. It also means that each person in the household must then be tested again, individually, at a testing center of their choice.

“As members of a household are considered close contacts of each other, household pool testing is the most efficient way to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the home,” Auclair says, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19. “If any one individual were to test positive, the entire household would quarantine. That’s why a pooled test makes sense here.”

The results will be delivered to the employee through the Life Sciences Testing Center portal located on Northeastern’s wellness page, the same way they are now. The university contact tracing team will provide guidance on the quarantine process, but the full case investigation can only start when the positive individual in the household is determined.

If an employee’s household test results in a positive case, that employee will be required to quarantine according to the guidelines provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and get tested again at the Huntington Testing Center.

The household pool testing program is currently not available for contract employees.

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