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.


3 replies on “Massachusetts College Testing Update October 5, 2020”

Thanks for this great analysis. I have been wondering what demographic that is driving the positive rate higher? If it is not univeristy students, who is it? We know that deaths in long term care are still high but what is driving the positivity rates up? Does the data inform us at all?

The data provided by the state is not helpful. I’ve been trying to do an analysis of the age breakdown of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, but the data provided by the state is internally inconsistent and nonsensical since they stopped providing daily updates to that in mid-August, and switched to the weekly updates. I’ll probably put something out on that in the near future, but with a lot of caveats about how poor the data quality is.

Finally, at long last, the Globe is telling it like it is. Took them long enough. I’m sure you know the article in question. Thanks for giving us the unfiltered truth these past many weeks.

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