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Here’s how Northeastern will test students who show symptoms of COVID-19

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*Published on September 3, 2020*

In order to promote the safety of the Northeastern community while maintaining a comprehensive view of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has created a separate testing facility for students who exhibit symptoms of the illness.

The Huntington Testing Center, located at 369 Huntington Avenue, is outfitted to be the “gold standard” of indoor, symptomatic testing, says Amaura Kemmerer, associate dean for wellness at Northeastern.

Unlike its counterpart at Cabot, the testing facility on Huntington Avenue is strictly for students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and students who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease.

Students who endorse either criterium on their daily wellness check will be immediately connected with a telehealth medical clinician, Kemmerer says. If the healthcare professional determines that the student’s symptoms are indicative of the disease, or if their exposure is sufficient, the healthcare professional will order a test from the Huntington Testing Center. Only then can a student be tested at the facility.

“We have been very intentional about this process because of course, we don’t want students being unnecessarily exposed to a testing facility dedicated to symptomatic cases,” Kemmerer says.

The testing process at the Huntington Testing Center is similar to that at the Cabot Testing Center, with several key differences.

Students must be referred by a medical professional to get an appointment at the Huntington facility. They can neither schedule an appointment themselves, nor walk into the facility without an appointment.

Similarly to the process at Cabot, when students arrive at the Huntington facility, they’ll be asked to verify their identity and personal information, and be given a personal label with a barcode for their testing sample.

After that, each student will be directed to an individual room with an individual medical assistant, who will perform an anterior nasal swab of both nostrils. Though the sample collection method is the same, students will not take their own sample at the Huntington facility, the way they do at Cabot.

The medical professionals and all staff at the Huntington facility will be required to wear full personal protective equipment at all times inside the testing center. Students will be required to wear masks.

Four individual testing rooms have been built inside the Huntington Testing Center, and only two students can be tested at a time, to allow proper wash-downs and sanitation periods of each room after a test is complete. The center currently has a capacity to test 64 students per day, with room to double that figure if needed, Kemmerer says.

“The Cabot Testing Center is a cavernous space that was designed with the ventilation and sanitation precautions for a high volume of testing per day,” says David Luzzi, senior vice provost for research and head of the university’s testing operation. “The Huntington center was built around the assumption that someone who comes in is sick with COVID-19.”

The Huntington facility is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days per week, and available for all full-time students, including students on co-op. Faculty and staff who exhibit symptoms should be in touch with their medical providers and are advised not to come to campus.

Like those from Cabot, samples from the Huntington Testing Center will be sent to Northeastern’s Life Sciences Testing Center on the university’s Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts. Last month, the center received state and federal certifications to process coronavirus samples using the gold standard for viral testing. Some of Northeastern’s samples are tested by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The university is working with the biomedical research center as part of its overall testing protocol.

The samples from the Huntington facility will be tested with the same rigor as every other sample, says Jared Auclair, associate teaching professor of biotechnology and lead of the Life Sciences Testing Center.

“From a scientific perspective, we treat every sample as if it’s positive,” he says. “That’s just best practices in the industry.”

Every student who lives on campus and tests positively for the disease, or has come into close contact with a person who has, will be placed in wellness housing for at least 14 days in order to isolate or quarantine, respectively, Kemmerer says. The special, individual housing has been incorporated into buildings throughout campus and is sanitized thoroughly.

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