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.