*Published on August 21, 2020*
Since systematic testing for the coronavirus began Monday, Northeastern has completed 4,098 tests, with 4097 negative results and one positive. The university is launching an online dashboard to track and share the results of everyone being tested on the Boston campus.
The dashboard is being updated daily with the latest available numbers from Northeastern’s Life Sciences Testing Center, a new, state-of-the-art laboratory on the university’s Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts that this month secured state and federal certifications to process coronavirus samples.
At the Cabot Physical Education Center on the Boston campus, where everyone who shows no symptoms of COVID-19 is being tested, people go through a physically distanced and self-administered testing process that takes between five and 10 minutes.
The principle behind testing everyone quickly and regularly is to promote the safety of the campus and the surrounding communities, says David Luzzi, senior vice provost for research and head of the university’s testing operation.
“In order to make the campus safe you want to get your results from testing back as quick as possible,” Luzzi says. “The faster you get it back, the better you are at getting people isolated from the community so you don’t get more spread.”
Most students will need to be tested every five days if they are on the Boston campus more than one day a week. Other students who are on campus less frequently will need to be tested every seven days, or whenever they visit the campus. All students will need to undergo three coronavirus tests within the first five days of their arrival on campus. Students who were already studying or working on campus can also begin their initial testing now.
For faculty, staff, and contract workers, the testing plan requires a test once a week, or whenever they visit the university if they are not on campus regularly.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 will need to consult with a medical provider to see if testing is needed, and proceed to a different, specially designated facility for testing.
Everyone’s samples go through a process that involves fast, but highly specific analysis of the genetic material of the virus at the Life Sciences Testing Center. Samples from Cabot are sent in for analysis every two hours, and most people have received their results back within 36 hours by checking into an online portal that provides the status of their tests.
If the results are delayed, people should contact Northeastern’s COVID-19 hotline, according to university officials.
Northeastern has retrofitted Cabot into a facility that can test everyone studying, living, and working on the Boston campus. Its 48 self-swabbing stations are open 12 hours a day during the week, and eight hours a day on weekends.
Combined with the Life Sciences Testing Center, the Cabot facility is part of a strategy to test up to 5,000 people a day by Aug. 29, as students begin to move to campus.
In addition to the ongoing and rapid testing of everyone on the Boston campus, the reopening plan also requires that all people on campus wear a mask at all times and maintain a distance of at least six feet from others—be it indoors or outdoors. The plan also includes upgrades that exceed the requirements of public health guidelines to air filtration and ventilation systems in classrooms, laboratories, and other indoor spaces.
And, everyone is required to check for symptoms of sickness on a daily basis, or whenever they visit campus, using the Daily Wellness Check.
To help slow the spread of the virus on campus and inside the Cabot center, everyone who shows up for a test must use the wellness checker to confirm they do not have symptoms of COVID-19.
“We have lots of rules that students have to obey on campus,” Luzzi says. “There’s a whole process to handle with compliance, so we feel like we’re in a good situation for that.”
Everyone signing up for a test at Cabot needs to do so in advance using the COVID-19 Test Scheduler. Because the process of getting tested at Cabot consists of meticulous planning with a focus on rapidness, the facility cannot accept walk-ins.
Ian Thomsen contributed to this report.