Broad Institute, Commonwealth of Massachusetts team up to test at-risk populations in COVID-19 hotspots

The COVID-19 testing center at the Broad is providing testing, training, and supplies to health agencies in eight hard-hit communities

Scott Sassone, Broad Communications
Credit: Scott Sassone, Broad Communications

In partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is supporting the state’s “Stop the Spread” testing initiative, which is aimed at reducing COVID-19 cases in communities hit hardest by the pandemic. The initiative runs July 10 through August 14 in eight communities where COVID-19 rates are higher than the state average and where testing volume has been declining. These communities include Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford.

The state’s program will support the testing of asymptomatic individuals in these communities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Commonwealth urges residents, even those with no COVID symptoms, to get tested for COVID-19. A list of testing sites can be found at

As noted by Governor Charlie Baker, residents of these communities make up nine percent of the state population but represent 27 percent of the positive cases over the past two weeks.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Stop the Spread initiative,” said Stacey Gabriel, institute scientist and senior director of the Broad’s Genomics Platform. “This will make testing more accessible for many people who need it most.”

The program offers free COVID-19 testing to all who visit designated health care sites and mobile testing vans in those communities, whether or not they are residents of these communities. The Broad Institute will provide COVID-19 testing kits and training for workers and will process the collected swabs for SARS-CoV-2 virus in the institute’s clinical testing facility. As of mid-July, the lab has processed approximately 300,000 tests at a rate of several thousand per day.

Since the Broad established a COVID-19 testing center in its CLIA-certified lab in March, the institute has supported testing vulnerable and underserved populations, such as residents of nursing homes and homeless shelters. Gabriel and others in the Genomics Platform have recently improved the online system that clinical sites use to order and submit tests, resulting in a more streamlined process that can also accommodate new requirements for collecting more demographic information from patients.

Test kits provided by the Broad require a swab from the lower nostril, which is far less invasive than a nasopharyngeal swab. After the tests are processed in the Broad’s clinical lab, staff at the agencies can log in to the Broad’s web portal for results.

Expanded testing in these hard-hit communities will help identify new cases, including asymptomatic carriers, support contact tracing efforts, and help curb the spread of coronavirus.

“Regular testing of individuals, whether or not they have symptoms, is key to fighting this pandemic, and nowhere is this more important than in communities that are the hardest hit,” said Gabriel. “This initiative is key to keeping our state moving in the right direction.”