Broad Institute provides COVID-19 screening for students, faculty, and staff at more than 100 colleges and universities

Broad’s high-throughput COVID-19 testing facility has processed more than 1.1 million COVID-19 tests since March; now processes approximately 1 in every 20 tests nationwide

Scott Sassone, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Credit: Scott Sassone, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is partnering with 108 public and private colleges and universities in Massachusetts and the surrounding region to provide regular COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, and staff, as part of back-to-school plans.

Among more than 415,000 tests conducted for the college and university testing program so far, the positive rate across the program (spanning students, faculty, and staff) is approximately 0.1 percent — or 1 in 1,000.

The program to support higher education was conceived in May, when the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM) reached out to the Broad Institute to ask it to support its member organizations’ desire for regular testing in the Fall 2020 semester. Samples are collected by the institutions. Broad collects the samples from the schools and processes the tests for colleges and universities at a cost of $25 per test, compared to $100 to $150 per test charged by some private labs. (The standard cost for test processing at Broad is between $35-$50, but Broad has set a price of $25 per test for certain cases that are for critical public needs or that have high and sustained volume).

In March, Broad Institute’s Genomics Platform converted its existing, highly-automated CLIA-certified laboratory into a high-throughput COVID-19 test processing center. Since then, the Genomics Platform team has processed more than 1.1 million COVID-19 tests, returning results in about 24 hours on average.

With the recent increases, the Broad’s testing lab is now processing approximately 1 in every 20 tests conducted in the United States, based on testing data from the COVID Tracking Project. The Broad’s daily testing volume is reported on its COVID-19 testing dashboard.

Public and private colleges and universities engaging in the Broad’s testing program include: Amherst College, Babson College, Bard College, Barnard College, Bates College, Bay Path University, Bentley University, Boston College, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Bridgewater State University, Bryant University, Champlain College, Clark University, Clarkson University, Colby College, College of the Atlantic, Columbia University, Connecticut College, Curry College, Dartmouth College, Emerson College, Emmanuel College, Endicott College, Fairfield University, Fisher College, Fitchburg State University, Fordham University, Framingham State University, Gordon College, Hamilton College, Hampshire College, Harvard University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Husson University, Lasell University, Lesley University, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, MassArt, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Middlebury, MIT, Mitchell College, Montserrat College of Art, Mount Holyoke College, New England Conservatory, Nichols College, Northeastern University, Northern Vermont University, Norwich University, Olin College, Providence College, Quinnipiac University, Regis College, Rhode Island School of Design, Rochester Institute of Technology, Roger Williams University, Saint Michael’s College, Salem State University, Salve Regina University, Simmons University, Skidmore College, Smith College, Springfield College, St. Lawrence University, Stonehill College, Suffolk University, Trinity College, Tufts, UMass Amherst, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell, UMass Medical Center, Union College, University of Connecticut, University of New England, University of Rhode Island, University of Vermont, Wagner College, Wellesley College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, Westfield State University, Wheaton College, Williams College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester State University, and Yale.

“Massachusetts is a leader when it comes to testing standards and in-state lab testing capacity,” said Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who leads the Commonwealth's COVID-19 Command Center. “Achieving and maintaining this high standard requires strong community partnerships with our region's world-class medical and academic community, such as the Broad Institute. This testing provides critical data and analysis that strengthens policy and response across the Commonwealth.”

“The Broad Institute has been an important testing partner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since the beginning of the pandemic, and we are grateful that they have extended their capacity to help institutions of higher learning develop plans for a safe return to campus in the fall,” said Paula Johnson, President of Wellesley College and chair of the Massachusetts Higher Education Testing Group. “As a non-profit research institution connected to MIT, Harvard, and Harvard hospitals, the Broad understands the importance of helping students, faculty, and staff focus on the hard work of teaching and learning. We believe that regular testing, combined with physical distancing, masks, contact tracing, and easy access to health care, is an important part of protecting our communities.”

“As colleges and universities work to safely reconvene in person during this pandemic, testing is a cornerstone of our plans," said Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, member of the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board, and chair of the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group. “Testing is critical to protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff members, and people in the communities that surround our campuses — as well as enabling students to make meaningful progress towards their educational goals. Continued vigilance is paramount, and the Broad Institute’s testing program — bolstered by symptom monitoring, social distancing, use of masks, testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine practices — makes it possible.”

“The Broad Institute’s ability to provide testing and their public-spiritedness have made it possible for us to have students on campus,” said Biddy Martin, President of Amherst College. “We have now administered over 8,000 tests. The Broad has been as good as its word, providing help with courier service and making results available within roughly 24 hours or less. We could not be more grateful. We have combined easily-administered, reliable testing with contact tracing, classrooms set up for social distancing, the opportunity to teach and gather in small, physically-distant groups out of doors, and the wearing of masks to make the campus environment as safe as any can be. Education matters.”

Broad’s testing mission is focused on serving public needs. The support of higher education builds on Broad’s commitment to serving Massachusetts and surrounding areas. Broad Institute:

  • Provides testing services for Governor Charlie Baker’s “Stop the Spread” initiative, which supports free testing of asymptomatic individuals in high-risk communities, including Agawam, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Taunton, Winthrop, and Worcester, and is expanding to support K-12 testing in communities experiencing outbreaks;
  • Provides ongoing, proactive testing of residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, in a program that began in Cambridge and then expanded across Massachusetts, with more than 78,000 people in more than 440 different facilities tested so far;
  • Partners with Mass Senior Care on a weekly testing program for especially vulnerable populations in low-income senior housing in Chelsea, New Bedford, and parts of Boston;
  • Partners with the City of Cambridge and a local ambulance service to provide free testing to residents at neighborhood mobile testing sites, and provided tests at no cost for 776 medically-vulnerable individuals in 16 low-income housing complexes;
  • Provides testing for people staying in homeless shelters in Cambridge; and
  • Is partnering this fall with the City of Cambridge to support testing within the city’s K-12 community, as determined by the Cambridge Public Health Department and Cambridge Public Schools.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, the Broad Institute has worked alongside the city of Cambridge to help us test our most vulnerable residents,” said Claude A. Jacob, Chief Public Health Officer and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department. “In early April, when there was a shortage of testing supplies nationwide, we were able to test more than 1,000 residents and workers in Cambridge long-term care facilities in a single weekend, quickly learning that more than 200 people were infected. We believe this early intervention saved lives and averted a bigger crisis. Cambridge and the state have greatly benefited from the Broad Institute’s leadership in this crisis and its innovative testing platform.”

“Many schools were concerned that regular testing would be too costly and overwhelming to manage,” said Richard Doherty, President of the AICUM in Massachusetts. “Working with the Broad Institute, we developed a plan that would make regular testing a more viable option for schools to consider as they make the best decisions for their students, faculty, and staff.”

Under the program, participating colleges and universities determine who is eligible to be tested (such as students, faculty, and/or staff, with physician approval) and how often (twice weekly, weekly, or once every two weeks). Broad assembles and sends the test kits, including tubes and swabs, and schools follow protocols for proper swabbing and test kit handling. Then, Broad processes the tests, returning results within about 24 hours of receipt.

“Students, staff, and faculty have been pleased with the ease of our testing program and the speed with which we have received results. And from a public health perspective, it has given us confidence that we can detect infections early and take immediate steps to reduce spread and keep our community safe,” said Anthony P. Monaco, President of Tufts University. “Students are embracing the program, along with other layers of protection such as masking, distancing, and practicing good hygiene, in the spirit of keeping our community and our neighbors healthy.”

“UMass Amherst has established multiple COVID-19 testing capabilities, including on-campus symptomatic testing for SARS-CoV-2, and ‘adaptive testing’ that includes pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic testing at different frequencies for campus subpopulations,” noted Peter Reinhart, Director, Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst. “Our ability to both rapidly test, and rapidly develop an on-campus ‘adaptive testing’ capability, was greatly aided by the testing capacity, open exchange of data, testing protocols, and learnings shared by the Broad Institute.”

“Our first priority has been to offer COVID-19 testing services to support public health needs across Massachusetts and the region, so we are proud to help our partners in higher education detect and quickly respond to any new outbreaks this fall,” said Stacey Gabriel, Senior Director of the Broad Institute Genomics Platform. “Thanks to a remarkable team, we have been able to create capacity to process tens of thousands of tests per day, and have validated test kits that use materials and supplies that are widely available, all while simplifying the process, turning around results within a day and keeping costs down.”

“The Broad’s mission has been to serve the most important public health needs, particularly of Massachusetts and the surrounding region. The team has worked days, nights, weekends, and holidays — first to create a reliable, high-throughput, inexpensive facility for COVID-19 test processing, and then to scale it to support the needs of the Commonwealth,” said Eric S. Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute. “We are honored to work with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and so many other institutions who have rallied to respond to the pandemic.”

Software for collection sites, logistics, and return-of-results has been developed by ELLKAY, LLC. In addition, schools can elect to use a mobile app developed by CoVerified to engage with Broad Institute testing systems.

“We believe extensive testing is a critical component to helping to flatten the curve in COVID-19, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to support the Broad Institute’s innovative testing approaches by providing connectivity to their many partners and providing speed and stability for the transmission of data, orders, results, and reporting,” said Kamal Patel, Chief Executive Officer at ELLKAY.