BU’s COVID-19 Testing Passes Its First Test
Pilot trial of 287 students on Medical Campus offers confidence to system operators
- Pilot trial of COVID-19 tests finds all systems go
- No positive results found in first 287 students tested
- All five testing collection stations go live on August 15
A four-day pilot test of Boston University’s COVID-19 testing program on the Medical Campus last week found no positive cases of the virus among 287 graduate students tested. The success of the trial gives confidence to administrators and test system operators that the complex project can handle the challenges ahead, starting with the arrival of undergraduate students in mid-August, says Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research.
“This has been a huge undertaking,” says Waters. “There will be more than 150 people working on this at five different sites. The goal of the pilot was to try out our testing collection stations and the lab. It was about things like gathering samples and delivering them to the lab, and all of those things have gone very well.”
Test results for 283 of the 287 students, all enrolled in the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine or the School of Medicine, were negative, and test results were inconclusive for 4 students, who have been called back for retesting.
Waters says the pilot testing is continuing this week with increasing numbers of tests on the Medical Campus, and also with testing at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, which houses both a testing collection station and the BU Clinical Testing Lab, which will process the tests from BU’s five collection stations. As of Wednesday evening, more than 1,000 students on the Medical Campus had been tested, which she called “an incredibly robust response” by the students.
“Last week we never had more than 96 tests in one day,” Waters says. “On Monday of this week we had 350 on the Medical Campus and another 220 or so graduate students who were invited to be tested at the Kilachand Center. Each week between now and August 15 we will be adding people to be tested.
“Once people are tested they will know what to do. They will know how to unwrap the swab and know what to do with it, so future tests should go more quickly. Those are the kinds of things that the pilot is about, and we need to test all of them. We need to be sure that people waiting for tests can stand six feet apart. This is a system with lots of processes, and we are troubleshooting the whole thing.”
Kelly Lockard, Advisory Services associate director, says the pilot gave her confidence that BU’s system could handle testing on a large scale. “We are now focusing on refining a collection process that can accommodate over 6,000 students, faculty, and staff per day,” Lockard says, and that feedback from test participants will help guide operational decisions going forward.
Drew Duckett, director of collection site operations for the Back2BU Health and Safety Initiative, says the pilot convinced him that the University has designed and built a safe and efficient collection process. “We still have work ahead,” says Duckett, who is also Student Health Services associate head athletic trainer. “We still must see this operate as smoothly at scale, but I am pleased with the process.”
To head up operations at the BU Clinical Testing Lab, Waters brought in experts in healthcare technology and operations. New lab supervisor Lynn Doucette-Stamm, a former vice president of technology at Sitokine, Inc., who has more than 30 years of management and leadership experience in the human genetics and genomics field, describes the Clinical Testing Lab as “a state-of-the art facility that will provide the BU community with accurate and timely COVID-19 testing.”
Candice Miller, who initially served as a consultant on the COVID-19 testing project, has been appointed managing director of lab operations and is responsible for setting up all of the collection sites. Formerly a vice president at Quest Diagnostics Molecular Biology Laboratory, Miller says the lab will deliver timely results with the highest possible accuracy. “We are ready for students and faculty to return to campus with frequent testing in our new high throughput clinical lab,” she says
The testing station on the Medical Campus is at 72 East Concord Street. Charles River Campus testing stations are at the Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, the 808 Gallery, the Agganis Arena lobby, and for those who report feeling symptoms of the coronavirus, 925 Commonwealth Avenue Rear, in the back of Agganis Arena. The sites, which are scheduled to begin operations on August 15, will be open for collection from 7 am to 8 pm or 8 am to 9 pm, depending on the site (see the hours of operation sidebar above) and will collect an average of about 500 tests per hour across all sites.
Arriving students, whose numbers are limited to about 750 per day, will go into surveillance collection testing after completing their entrance test. Undergraduates will be tested every three days at one of four collection sites on the Charles River Campus. Graduate students will initially be tested weekly. (The University is covering the cost of all tests for faculty, staff, and students.)
Judy Platt, director of Student Health Services and chair of BU’s Medical Advisory Group, says certain groups of students will be prioritized for higher testing frequencies based on a variety of factors, including their living arrangements on campus and their interactions with the campus community. Faculty and staff who test positive will be asked to stay at home and reach out to their primary care physician for further instructions. Student Health Services has quarantine and isolation protocols for all students who have been exposed to the virus or who have COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive. In all cases, faculty, staff, and students will receive test results and further instructions, as needed.
Waters says the University will closely monitor test results, as well as a variety of other metrics, and will respond appropriately. She says there is no designated positive test rate that will trigger a specific action.