COVID-19 Testing Protocols and Compliance

July 27, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff of Boston University,

I hope this note finds you well and enjoying some summer relaxation in the midst of dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 on our lives. Many at Boston University have spent the late spring and summer preparing for the fall and the important return to on-campus teaching and research.

We are less than a month away from the beginning of the return of our undergraduate and graduate students to the Charles River Campus. The repopulation of our classrooms has already begun on the Medical Campus. In the last several weeks students in the MD and PA (physician assistant) programs have begun returning to class. They will be followed in coming weeks by students in other programs on the Medical Campus.

I know that there is tremendous interest in understanding the details of our testing practices and associated public health protocols because these are critical to our return to on-campus residential education. As the process of bringing students back to our campuses ramps up through August, I know that there will be some anxiety among all of us about the probability of transmission of COVID-19 in our community. The increase in transmission in states outside New England is extremely worrisome; we are actively monitoring the spread of the disease nationally.

For the fall, we have put in place a comprehensive plan with the goal of decreasing the incidence of the virus in our campus community. I have shared elements of it with you in my letter of June 17; the elements of the plan are summarized at the end of this document.


The plans we have put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community rely on all members of our community complying with the practices we are implementing. We are requiring everyone who returns to campus to follow these protocols.

All students returning to campus will be required, through a digital agreement, to agree to a set of Health Commitments and Expectations including face coverings, symptom attestation, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation. The agreement makes clear that compliance will be a condition of being a member of our on-campus community—going to classes; studying; utilizing campus dining, recreation, and library facilities; working; and participating in activities. Students currently living in our student residences will also sign an addendum to their Residential Life Agreements that requires them to adhere to all health and safety requirements. We have instructed the Dean of Students and his staff to enforce these rules for all students; we will give all faculty and staff information about how to inform us of non-compliant behavior by a student. We also are planning comprehensive public campaigns to inform the community about compliance requirements. And there will be a student-led effort to keep compliance on everyone’s mind as we move through the semester.

Compliance will also be mandatory for all faculty and staff returning to campus. Staff and faculty should report non-compliant behavior to their immediate supervisor, department chair, or dean. More information on this will be forthcoming.

Testing Protocols

The goal of community testing is to detect cases of COVID-19 in our community and quickly move individuals who test positive into environments where they can get needed medical attention and prevent spread of the disease. We also will have prioritized RT-PCR testing available on demand for individuals who exhibit symptoms; this testing is distinct from the community testing discussed below.

RT-PCR testing is the most accurate method currently available for detecting the virus that causes COVID-19. The sensitivity of the test for detecting someone with the virus is between 80 and 90 percent, depending on the method of sample collection and the viral load of the individual. We will use the Anterior Nares (AN) collection method using self-collection under observation. RT-PCR tests also have an extremely low false positive rate. Our testing laboratory will be capable of processing very large numbers of tests daily. Our goal is to return results within 24 hours for every test.

Testing frequencies are based on accepted models of COVID-19 spread and simulations of transmission that take into account specific details of our classroom and residential environment.

Testing frequencies are determined by the four categories to which faculty and staff have been assigned and which we have described in previous communications. The definitions of these categories are included at the end of this letter.

Students Returning to Campus

  • All undergraduates will be tested immediately on return to campus; subsequent testing is described below.
  • Students living on-campus and coming from outside of the United States or from states which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts health authorities classify as higher risk are required to self-quarantine for 14 days, observing “stay-in-place” protocols within our student residences. These include staying in their assigned rooms and leaving only for essential needs such as picking up food, attending medical appointments, and participating in regular testing at the frequency described below.
  • Students living off-campus must also follow self-quarantine practices at their places of residence.
  • Based on travel guidance issued on July 24 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, students returning to campus from out of state are exempt from the state’s 14-day quarantine if they are coming from a state deemed lower risk by the Commonwealth.
  • Students returning to campus from outside of the United States or states not exempted from the Massachusetts quarantine mandate are obliged to self-quarantine until they have received a negative result from a test taken after arrival.
  • However, to limit risk of travel-related exposure, Boston University is strongly advising that all students arriving to the campus from areas for which a travel-related quarantine is in place continue to self-quarantine until they have had three consecutive negative test results. The regular testing protocols are outlined below. For students in our residences, we recommend the continuation of the use of the “stay-in-place” protocols until the students have had three consecutive negative tests.
  • All graduate students will be tested immediately on return to campus; subsequent testing is described below. Graduate students are subject to the same quarantine guidelines that apply to undergraduate students, but are only advised to observe stay-in-place protocols until two consecutive tests are negative given the different testing frequency for these students.

Faculty and Staff Returning to Campus

  • All faculty and staff in categories 1, 2, and 3 must be tested upon return to campus. Testing for this purpose will commence on August 15, unless otherwise notified.
  • Faculty and staff in category 4, which includes those receiving accommodations to work from home, will not be tested.

Testing Frequency for Undergraduate and Graduate Students

  • All undergraduate students—living on- or off-campus—will be tested twice weekly. This testing frequency will commence on return to campus.
  • All graduate students—living on- or off-campus—who come to campus frequently will initially be tested weekly. This testing frequency will commence on return to campus but will be reevaluated as we learn more about how often cohorts of graduate students are on campus.

Testing Frequency for Faculty and Staff

  • All individuals in categories 1 and 2 will be tested weekly.
  • Individuals in category 3 will be tested only at the beginning of the semester.
  • Individuals in category 4 will not be tested.

Stations for submitting a testing sample are being installed at three sites on the Charles River Campus and one site on the Medical Campus:

  • Kilachand Center, 610 Commonwealth Avenue
  • 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Avenue
  • Agganis Arena Lobby, 925 Commonwealth Avenue
  • BU Medical Campus, 72 East Concord Street

We are working to design the process so that it is safe and takes only a few minutes. There will be more detail forthcoming about how testing will be administered.

Before August 15, BU will launch a new website—Healthway—that will be your portal into our COVID-19 community health services. Everyone in the community will use this site to securely access health systems for the following tasks:

  • Completing daily self-attestation symptom reports
  • Scheduling testing
  • Checking test results
  • Displaying health compliance status

The health information from BU health systems will be available only to you and to medical professionals in Occupational Health (Student Health Services will be responsible for student information). It will be used for no other purposes than monitoring your health relative to COVID-19.

The information described in this letter is an important step in finalizing our plans for repopulating our campuses. There is no doubt that the environment will be different from that of any previous fall, but we have every indication that we will be able to effectively return to the work of teaching, research, and scholarship with COVID-19 in our midst.


Robert A. Brown signature
Robert A. Brown

Appendix: Public Health Interventions

The plan for public health interventions on campus includes the following steps:

  • Face covering by everyone inside and outside our facilities
  • Application of the six-foot distancing rule in all our classrooms, dining halls, offices, and other spaces
  • Enhanced sanitation all across campus
  • Increased ventilation and air-filtering in buildings with central air systems
  • Symptom attestation by everyone—students, staff, and faculty—coupled with prioritized testing for individuals reporting symptoms
  • RT-PCR testing of everyone on campus
  • Contact tracing of close contacts of individuals identified with the virus
  • For students living in our on-campus student residences, quarantine of close contacts and isolation of infected individuals on campus. For non-residential off-campus students, staff, and faculty, self-quarantine and isolation at the place where they live.

We are requiring everyone who returns to campus to comply with the guidelines for face covering, physical distancing, symptom-attestation, and testing.

Appendix: Testing Categories

We have grouped all students, faculty, and staff into the following four categories.

Testing Category 1

  • Residential undergraduate students and RA staff
  • Commuting students, staff, and faculty who interact with residential students for significant periods of time either in classes or other activities or who otherwise spend many hours on campus in close contact activities like athletics, performing arts, or in some research and off-campus educational environments
  • Students who live off campus and employees who, due to age or medical condition, have disclosed (through a confidential process) that they fall within a CDC high-risk category (or who have disclosed that they have household members in these categories)
  • Students and employees who use public transportation to travel to or from campus
  • BU healthcare providers (including, for example, faculty, staff, and students providing healthcare services to members of the BU community or to the public, but excluding Boston University Medical Group faculty who do not have classroom or laboratory contact with students and other BU faculty and staff members) and first responders like the BUPD who have high contact hours with each other or must interact frequently with individuals outside the University who may not have taken basic CDC protective measures (face covering, distancing, self-diagnosis)

Testing Category 2

  • Commuting students residing off campus attending in-person classes, but with little contact with residential students
  • Commuting employees, including certain faculty, who are student-facing, but have little contact with residential students and have limited contact hours in venues such as classrooms. Although at risk for infections from outside the Boston University community, individuals in this category will work within protocols established for entry into the BU work environment.

Testing Category 3

  • Commuting employees whose job duties require very limited contact with students and who can control their contact with other employees so as to limit interactions to small groups of individuals with appropriate work environment protocols in place and minimal contact hours

Testing Category 4

  • Students, faculty, and staff who engage only in virtual learning, working, and other activities and events and who do not commute to campus