For over a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities operated remotely or in a hybrid model. Ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, universities were tasked with a difficult challenge: safely returning students, faculty and staff to campus.
With the fall semester now underway and campuses keeping a close eye on infection rates, testing remains a top priority. Administrators have several factors to consider, including vaccination policies, community transmission rates, emerging variants and breakthrough infections. If transmission rates remain low, schools may want to prioritize more cost-effective methods for routine testing, such as pooling. On the other hand, if there is a higher transmission rate, they may need to ramp up individual testing.
Jared Auclair, the director of executive training and biotechnology programs at Northeastern University, a prominent university in the heart of Boston, recently presented a webinar on Northeastern’s COVID-19 journey. Like many schools, Northeastern shut down its campus in March of 2020. Without a medical school or clinical lab on campus at the time, developing testing protocols for the 2020-2021 school year posed a significant challenge for Auclair and Northeastern’s testing task force.
After investigating the best plan of action, Auclair and his team recommended that the school develop its own testing lab. By June of 2020, the team was setting up the school’s first CLIA-certified lab equipped with Thermo Fisher Scientific’s testing solutions using gold-standard PCR technology. By July of 2020, Northeastern’s Life Science Testing Center (LSTC) was CLIA-certified and had ramped up two testing sites, one for asymptomatic testing and the other for symptomatic testing. The asymptomatic testing center focused on surveillance and tracking the virus across campus populations, while the symptomatic testing center performed diagnostic testing.
By the end of August 2020, the LSTC was processing more than 5,000 samples daily, but needed additional capacity to meet a surge of demand across the university. Auclair’s team decided to expand testing capacity to over 14,000 tests daily, seven days a week. Even through holidays, the center continued to provide reliable testing to students and faculty.
As new variants started surfacing across the globe, Northeastern made campus surveillance a priority, using data from the testing sites to help guide administrative decisions to better protect faculty and students. For the 2021-2022 school year, the university adjusted campus policies to factor in variants, vaccinations and breakthrough infections. Even as more students get vaccinated, Northeastern maintains a strong testing system to prepare and protect the university from future outbreaks.
As the pandemic evolves, so do college and university COVID-19 protocols. To learn more about Northeastern’s testing experience, please watch the full webinar on-demand.
To learn more about Thermo Fisher Scientific’s COVID-19 Testing Solutions for Universities, please visit thermofisher.com/university.
TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit: For Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) only. For prescription use only. For in vitro diagnostic use.