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.

2 replies on “College and University Testing in Massachusetts”

Does the MA DPH absorb the college test stats into the overall state numbers? I would think so, especially since the college student and staff population can impact the local community – good and bad. Given the low positivity from the schools at this point, can this not help the state stats?

I think so, but don’t know for sure. It would be up to the individual colleges and the state. The numbers certainly are consistent with that, as most of the people being tested at colleges are repeat testers – who in aggregate have a recent test positivity rate of 0.2%, which drives the numbers way down compared to the newly tested. I might do a followup to check more carefully if the numbers support this.

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