One Million BU COVID Tests Reached—and Counting
Milestone seen as critical for why the University was able to maintain some on-campus learning and activity
What started with a pilot test program back in summer 2020, when no positive results for the coronavirus were detected among 287 samples, reached a huge milestone on Tuesday: Boston University’s Clinical Testing Lab for COVID-19 surpassed one million tests.
At its next update, BU’s COVID-19 dashboard will show that 1,000,063 reported results had been processed. (With just over 2,000 positive tests in total, or .2 percent of all tests performed.)
When the lab was established, the goals were clearly defined: test up to 6,000 members of the BU community daily, turning around test results within 24 hours. The testing facility was assembled at warp speed inside the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering. One key to its speedy testing was robotics: eight liquid-handling robots were programmed to automate the testing process. Without the robots, scientists needed up to four hours to process 96 tests by hand. With the robots? The lab could process more than 1,100 tests in two hours.
The facility has operated under the guidance of the BU Precision Diagnostics Center at the College of Engineering and its director, Catherine Klapperich, an ENG professor and vice chair of biomedical engineering, and a professor of mechanical engineering and of materials science and engineering. BU Today caught up briefly by email with Klapperich on Wednesday for a quick reaction to the milestone achievement.
With Catherine Klapperich
BU Today: Can you talk about the significance of this milestone, one million campus COVID-19 tests, in terms of what would have been different if BU had not decided to open its own testing facility? How would the last year have been different for students, faculty, and staff, in your view?
Klapperich: Had we not opened our own facility, we likely would have had a delay in starting the fall 2020 semester. When we started building for fall in April , we were operating with very limited information in terms of the progression of the pandemic, supply chain availability, travel restrictions, etc. We knew that resources to pull this off were not unlimited, so we worked to make the best possible start to fall with the information we had at the time. It turns out we made a lot of very good decisions back then that have paid off for the community.
On a personal level, how important, or rewarding, has the lab been for you?
Oh! This has been the most rewarding project of my career for sure. It was my honor to serve the BU community.
Now that you have more than a year of testing to reflect on, what surprised you about the process?
The students really made this whole process work. They really brought their best selves to campus in the fall. They masked, they distanced, they tested, and on many occasions students have reached out to me to say how grateful they were to be back on campus. I’m so proud of them!