College Testing

Massachusetts College Testing Update October 26, 2020

Over the past three weeks, there has been little change concerning college testing.  Higher education institutions in Massachusetts continue to perform widespread testing and well outperform the state as a whole in terms of test positivity and case rates. Table 1 summarizes the testing statistics to date for the twelve Boston area institutions on which I’ve been focusing, as well as UMass Amherst .  Cumulative test positivity remains very low, with only Boston College above 0.2%.

Table 1: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Cumulative Testing Results
October 25, 2020
  Results As Of Total Positive Positive
College/University Date Date Tests Tests Rate %
Babson 5-Aug 23-Oct 24,360 17 0.07%
Bentley 17-Aug 22-Oct 31,695 55 0.17%
Boston College 16-Aug 22-Oct 69,753 229 0.33%
Boston University 27-Jul 24-Oct 282,996 214 0.08%
Brandeis 12-Aug 22-Oct 53,051 16 0.03%
Emerson 6-Aug 22-Oct 32,157 26 0.08%
Harvard  1-Jun 24-Oct 140,731 80 0.06%
MIT 16-Aug 24-Oct 140,251 67 0.05%
Northeastern 17-Aug 23-Oct 298,848 150 0.05%
Suffolk 18-Sep 22-Oct 22,903 35 0.15%
Tufts 3-Aug 23-Oct 120,104 44 0.04%
UMass Amherst 6-Aug 23-Oct 108,097 157 0.15%
Wellesley 16-Aug 24-Oct 30,379 2 0.01%
Total     1,355,325 1092 0.08%


Table 2 shows testing statistics for the past week.  There have been very small outbreaks at Bentley College and Suffolk University, but the number of cases remain small.  Boston-area colleges are in very good shape.

Table 2: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Latest Weekly Results
October 25, 2020
    Average Weekly  
  As Of Daily Positive Positive Test
College/University Date Tests Tests Percent
Babson 23-Oct 339 4 0.17%
Bentley 22-Oct 623 15 0.34%
Boston College 22-Oct 1,095 11 0.14%
Boston University 24-Oct 4,504 45 0.14%
Brandeis 22-Oct 642 2 0.04%
Emerson 22-Oct 497 4 0.12%
Harvard  24-Oct 2,439 7 0.04%
MIT 24-Oct 2,362 8 0.05%
Northeastern 23-Oct 4,681 18 0.05%
Suffolk 22-Oct 454 12 0.38%
Tufts 23-Oct 2,143 2 0.01%
UMass Amherst 23-Oct 1,764 5 0.04%
Wellesley 24-Oct 487 1 0.03%
Total   22,029 134 0.09%


Higher educational testing accounts for almost half of all testing in the state.  Test positivity rates are very low in higher education (both the cumulative rate and the rate over the past week are 0.09%).  As Figure 1 indicates, this means that test positivity outside of higher education is substantially higher than the “all test” positivity rate that the state highlights in the daily dashboard.  Even as the overall test positivity rate began to increase in late September, higher education test positivity rates remained low and steady. Outside of higher education, positivity rates are now about 2.5%. In addition, since August 15, only about 4% of all confirmed Covid cases in Massachusetts are associated with higher educational institutions.



College Testing

Massachusetts College Testing Update October 5, 2020

Colleges and Universities are not driving the negative trends in cases and hospitalizations from Covid in Massachusetts. In fact, testing positivity rates for colleges are significantly below that for the state as a whole, and higher education testing is helping to keep positivity rates in check.

Table 1 shows updated cumulative testing and positive test percentages for twelve greater Boston area colleges and UMass Amherst through the end of last week. (This is an updated version of the table from an earlier post

Table 1: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Cumulative Testing Results
October 4, 2020
  Results As Of Total Positive Positive
College/University Date Date Tests Tests Rate %
Babson 5-Aug 1-Oct 16,927 9 0.05%
Bentley 17-Aug 1-Oct 20,466 9 0.04%
Boston College 16-Aug 2-Oct 44,687 177 0.40%
Boston University 27-Jul 3-Oct 190,094 134 0.07%
Brandeis 12-Aug 2-Oct 35,566 12 0.03%
Emerson 6-Aug 1-Oct 21,909 19 0.09%
Harvard  1-Jun 2-Oct 89,371 54 0.06%
MIT 16-Aug 2-Oct 91,508 45 0.05%
Northeastern 17-Aug 2-Oct 197,836 103 0.05%
Suffolk 18-Sep 1-Oct 14,264 20 0.14%
Tufts 3-Aug 2-Oct 75,177 36 0.05%
UMass Amherst 6-Aug 2-Oct 70,111 121 0.17%
Wellesley 16-Aug 2-Oct 16,237 1 0.01%
Total     884,153 740 0.08%


Overall positivity rates remain very low, with cumulative rates above 0.1% only for Boston College, Suffolk, and UMass Amherst. Boston College appears to have brought its earlier small outbreak under control. Table 2 shows testing and positivity figures for the past week.

Table 2: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Latest Weekly Results
October 4, 2020
    Average Weekly  
  As Of Daily Positive Positive Test
College/University Date Tests Tests Percent
Babson 1-Oct 337 1 0.04%
Bentley 1-Oct 121 3 0.35%
Boston College 2-Oct 941 9 0.14%
Boston University 3-Oct 3,790 1 0.03%
Brandeis 2-Oct 550 3 0.08%
Emerson 1-Oct 469 3 0.09%
Harvard  2-Oct 2,326 5 0.03%
MIT 2-Oct 2,272 12 0.08%
Northeastern 2-Oct 4,845 18 0.05%
Suffolk 1-Oct 434 4 0.13%
Tufts 2-Oct 2,117 5 0.03%
UMass Amherst 2-Oct 1,830 79 0.62%
Wellesley 2-Oct 545 0 0.00%
Total   20,577 143 0.12%

Note that the tests are shown on a daily basis so they can be compared across schools, but positive tests are for the entire prior week.  This table does point out the recent outbreak at UMass Amherst, at which cases began increasing on September 22nd.  Cases at UMass Amherst have increased even more over the past week.  Otherwise, positivity rates remain low.

The state has provided aggregate information on higher education testing for the past several weeks in its weekly public health reports. Figure 1 shows the average number of daily tests performed for higher education purposes relative to the total number of tests statewide from September 1st to 27th.  (Note that this report lags the data presented in Tables 1 and 2 by about a week, because of state reporting lags).

Figure 1 shows that higher education testing since September 1 has been slightly more than half of the testing in the entire state, indicating that higher education testing is now the most significant testing driver statewide. Over this period, higher education testing positivity rates have ranged between 0.05% and 0.11%. Because it is likely that much of the testing in higher education is repeated testing of the same individuals, these rates should probably be compared to the repeat tester rates statewide (which has been steady at 0.2% for several weeks). This indicates that test and case positivity rates outside of higher education are actually higher than they appear at first glance from the published statewide numbers. In fact, statewide test positivity rates outside of higher education ranged between 1.6% and 1.9%, compared to the 0.8% and 0.9% overall figure during September.

One last point.  The thirteen institutions highlighted in Tables 1 and 2 appear to be doing most of the higher education testing statewide.  Adjusting for the lag in reporting at the state level and the individual college level, over 70% of the higher education tests and 65% of the higher education positive tests are associated with those thirteen schools.


College Testing

College and University Testing in Massachusetts – Part II

Well, I was a bit premature. Or, I missed the fact that Boston College’s positive tests were primarily occurring in the past several days. In any event, I’m updating the college tests results I posted two days ago with the latest figures, and I’m adding data on the most recent week of testing to more readily spot trends across the schools.

Table 1 shows the cumulative test results for twelve local colleges, plus UMass Amherst. I dropped UMass Boston from the table because it is doing extremely limited testing (under 400 tests to date), and provides little information. I added UMass Amherst in its place, primarily because of its size and importance in the state University system. Little has changed in these data from two days ago, other than that the positivity rate from BC is up a bit, reflecting the most recent spate of positive cases.

Table 1: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Cumulative Testing Results
September 12,2020
  Results As Of Total Positive Positive
College/University Date Date Tests Tests Rate %
Babson 5-Aug 8-Sep 8,478 4 0.05%
Bentley 17-Aug 9-Sep 8,640 1 0.01%
Boston College 16-Aug 11-Sep 25,804 104 0.40%
Boston University 27-Jul 11-Sep 92,774 89 0.10%
Brandeis 12-Aug 11-Sep 20,103 6 0.03%
Emerson 6-Aug 9-Sep 11,180 11 0.10%
Harvard  1-Jun 11-Sep 39,331 36 0.09%
MIT 16-Aug 12-Sep 44,631 22 0.05%
Northeastern 17-Aug 10-Sep 83,620 48 0.06%
Suffolk 18-Sep 10-Sep 5,357 8 0.15%
Tufts 3-Aug 10-Sep 29,661 25 0.08%
UMass Amherst 6-Aug 11-Sep 35,384 14 0.04%
Wellesley 16-Aug 10-Sep 8,193 1 0.01%
Total     413,156 369 0.09%


Table 2 shows the results for the most recent week of testing, with the exception of BU, which is for the most recent day published. I’ve converted all the numbers to daily averages to make them comparable across schools. Here, the cluster of cases at Boston College more readily stands out, with a 7 day test postivity rate above 2% – higher than the statewide 0.8% average. None of the other colleges show any increase in positivity rates, and the aggregate rate remains extremely low.

Table 2: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
Latest Weekly Results
September 12,2020
  As Of Daily Positive Positive Test
College/University Date Tests Tests Percent
Babson 8-Sep 277 0 0.00%
Bentley 9-Sep 457 0 0.00%
Boston College 11-Sep 422 10 2.27%
Boston University 11-Sep 5,409 2 0.04%
Brandeis 11-Sep 611 0 0.00%
Emerson 9-Sep 463 0 0.03%
Harvard  11-Sep 1,415 1 0.08%
MIT 12-Sep 1,956 1 0.04%
Northeastern 10-Sep 5,874 4 0.06%
Suffolk 10-Sep 451 1 0.16%
Tufts 10-Sep 1,636 1 0.09%
UMass Amherst 11-Sep 1,456 0 0.01%
Wellesley 11-Sep 458 0 0.00%
Total   20,886 20 0.09%


Are all the test results for the schools being reported to the state and included in the state dashboard figures? It is difficult to tell. Over the past seven days, the state has reported slightly more than 44,000 tests per day on average.  If all the results in Table 2 were reported to the state, this implies that these thirteen colleges account for almost half the reported testing statewide. They probably do account for the bulk of the college testing in Massachusetts (I believe that the remaining colleges are either doing limited testing or are relatively small).

However, for the week ending August 15th before most of these college testing programs had begun to ramp up , the Commonwealth reported about 24,000 tests per day, of which 7,500 were for repeat testers.   This would mean that almost all the testing increase since mid-August has come from these colleges (or testing for the non-college-affliated population has dropped off).  This isn’t likely, but it seems highly likely that many of the colleges on the list are reporting to the state.  If so, they are partly driving the increasing testing totals and decreasing positivity rates among repeat testers.

College Testing

College and University Testing in Massachusetts

Stories about Covid-19 outbreaks at colleges and universities have been a big part of the Covid story for the past several weeks.   Large outbreaks have been reported at the University of North Carolina, the University of Georgia, and the University of Wisconsin, among others.

Closer to home, there was widespread apprehension in greater Boston in mid-to-late August and early September about the annual influx of college students to the area. Northeastern University made national headlines when it dismissed 11 students for violating the University’s protocols for large gatherings (and refused to refund their tuition!)  In recent days, Boston College shut down its swimming programs for a minimum of two weeks after an outbreak among members of the  teams.

It seems ominous.  But the reality of Covid-19 at Boston-area colleges and universities is  quite different.  Most colleges in the area have embarked on widespread testing programs in order to catch Covid outbreaks in the early stages and limit their spread. 

The table below summarizes the publicly available testing results from many colleges in the Boston area.  These figures combine test results for students, faculty, and staff.  These early test results are extremely encouraging, with an overall test positivity rate of less then one-tenth of one percent.  Even Boston College, which garnered the recent bad press, has a test positivity rate of only 0.35% (the worst of the pack), well under the rate in the state as a whole.

Interestingly, Brandeis University also published that 4,076 individuals had been tested through September 10th (none of the other schools make that information readily available), meaning that each person tested had been tested an average of 4.6 times.    It is unclear whether the other colleges have testing programs as robust as the one at Brandeis, but it likely is near the top of the pack with repeat testing.

Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing
September 11,2020
  Starting As Of Total Positive  Positive
College/University Date Date Tests Tests Test (%)
Babson 5-Aug 8-Sep 8,478 4 0.05%
Bentley 17-Aug 8-Sep 7,610 1 0.01%
Boston College 16-Aug 9-Sep 23,850 83 0.35%
Boston University 27-Jul 9-Sep 82,917 86 0.10%
Brandeis 12-Aug 10-Sep 18,846 6 0.03%
Emerson 6-Aug 8-Sep 10,395 11 0.11%
Harvard  1-Jun 9-Sep 35,885 31 0.09%
MIT 16-Aug 10-Sep 42,153 22 0.05%
Northeastern 17-Aug 8-Sep 72,819 41 0.06%
Suffolk 18-Sep 9-Sep 4,905 8 0.16%
Tufts 3-Aug 8-Sep 25,305 24 0.09%
UMass Boston N/A 6-Sep 338 0 0.00%
Wellesley 16-Aug 9-Sep 7,687 1 0.01%
Total     341,188 318 0.09%

Most of these testing programs have been performed in conjunction with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.  The Broad is partnering with over 100 colleges and universities, mostly in the Northeast, to oversee testing. On its website the Broad indicates affiliations with all of the schools above, except BU and UMass Boston.

As an aside, the Broad is a testing machine – it has performed over 1.5 million tests to date, primarily in Massachusetts, with current daily volumes often exceeding 60,000 tests, and test turnaround under 24 hours.  Currently, it processes almost 5% of the tests nationwide.