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News / 04.16.20

Broad Institute partners with City of Cambridge to pilot COVID-19 surveillance in nursing facilities

Scott Sassone, Broad Communications
Credit : Scott Sassone, Broad Communications
By Leah Eisenstadt

The program is testing each staff member and resident in the city’s seven nursing facilities to help prevent and treat COVID-19

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has launched a pilot program, in partnership with the Cambridge Public Health Department and ProEMS ambulance service, to conduct COVID-19 testing of all residents and staff members at Cambridge’s seven skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. Across the nation, the elderly — and especially those in nursing homes — face the highest risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. The results give the City of Cambridge the ability to more quickly respond to outbreaks.

*Update, April 17, 2020: The Broad is now working with ProEMS to conduct COVID-19 testing for residents and staff at Cambridge’s homeless shelters, using the same rapid testing surveillance methods currently being used at the city’s nursing and assisted living facilities.

The program began on April 9. In the first four days of the pilot program, about a thousand people had been tested, with 200 of those being found to be positive for coronavirus. Previously, city officials said they had only known of 24 cases. The program was designed to serve as a model for surveillance at other sites across the Commonwealth.

In March, the Broad transformed its clinical testing lab into a COVID-19 testing facility and has been processing samples from health care centers across New England. The Broad recently began working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the National Guard to process samples from nursing facilities with known outbreaks.

This new program expands on that effort to focus on surveillance, testing patients in nursing homes without known outbreaks, as part of a larger effort by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to expand coronavirus monitoring in nursing facilities. The goal of the pilot program is to rapidly identify cases, enable immediate medical care for infected individuals and prevent transmission to others.

During the pilot, each staff member, health care worker, and resident in Cambridge’s seven facilities is being tested twice. Trained emergency medical technicians with ProEMS use Broad-supplied kits to collect samples, which are brought to the institute’s COVID-19 testing lab for processing. Test results are shared with the Cambridge Public Health Department, the state, and the facilities, which can quickly offer medical care and isolate residents or staff who test positive.

“It’s extremely important to identify cases of COVID-19 in these settings, because staff and residents are at such high risk,” said Niall Lennon, institute scientist and senior director of translational genomics in the Broad’s Genomics Platform. “With expanded availability of testing at the Broad and elsewhere, we can start to do more surveillance testing like this pilot program. Even after the peak of the pandemic passes, there will be a continued need for surveillance testing of individuals who work or live in these facilities.”

*Update, April 17, 2020: The Broad is now working with ProEMS to conduct COVID-19 testing for residents and staff at Cambridge’s homeless shelters, using the same rapid testing surveillance methods currently being used at the city’s nursing and assisted living facilities. Test results will assist the City of Cambridge’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among residents and staff at homeless shelters in the city.