Surveillance Testing

Suffolk University has partnered with the Broad Institute to adopt COVID-19 testing that will detect active infection. Surveillance testing is the term for the type of testing model that provides tests to asymptomatic people within a group. The method of test collection is an anterior nares swab that individuals will administer themselves. The swab is small and is not inserted deep into the nose. This collection method is dramatically different than the more widely used nasopharyngeal collection method that some of you may have experienced. It is not likely to elicit coughing or sneezing and it is not painful.

Covid-19 Testing Restrictions and Exemptions

This testing will be provided free of charge to all participants.

Who

All non-symptomatic individuals who are routinely coming to campus at least weekly can participate. Once an individual is tested, they will need to commit to continued testing throughout the semester. Individuals participating in the surveillance testing program who do not get tested within the required timeframe will result in a "Restricted" status within the CoVerfied app. Occasional testing is not as meaningful as continued testing in regards to controlling community spread of COVID-19. For this reason, individuals will not be able to access campus buildings or programs if they do not adhere to their testing schedule. If you anticipate that you will be coming to campus after having been remote or if you know you will miss a regular testing date, please complete the "COVID-19 Testing Restrictions and Exemptions" form 48 hours in advance of your next visit to campus.

How often

Testing frequency is determined by the student or employee’s level of risk for novel coronavirus exposure related to being on campus, as well as personal circumstances. Based upon the June 2020 Report of the Massachusetts Higher Education Testing Group and informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the risk categories and their associated testing frequencies:

Low Risk: Employees who come to campus, have little or no contact with students, do not take public transportation to get to/from campus, and work in environments with appropriate protocols in place to limit the spread of infection (social distancing, face coverings, etc.) At Suffolk:

  • This includes employees who work in certain administrative or academic support settings across campus (e.g. Advancement, Finance, Human Resources, etc.).
  • Students do not fall into this risk category.

These individuals will be invited to participate in once weekly surveillance testing if they choose.

Medium Risk: Employees and nonresidential students who come to campus, have regular contact with residential students, do not take public transportation to get to/from campus, and work/study in environments with appropriate protocols in place to limit the spread of infection (social distancing, face coverings, etc.) At Suffolk, this includes:

  • Faculty, teaching staff, some student services staff, commuter students and students studying remotely but who will still come to campus for work-study jobs or to access services.

These individuals will be recommended for once weekly surveillance testing.

High Risk: All residential students, and employees and commuter students who come to campus, have regular contact with residential students, and/or take public transportation to/from campus. This group also includes anyone who comes to campus and has a medically defined risk factor for severe COVID illness. At Suffolk, this includes:

  • Students living in residence halls and hotels.
  • Staff in several high-contact settings across campus, as well as our vendors (ABM, Sodexo, etc.).
  • Anyone who must take public transportation to/from campus.
  • Anyone with a medical condition that puts them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

These individuals will be recommended either for once weekly or twice weekly surveillance testing depending upon their particular circumstances.

Where

Testing sites & hours

Regular testing hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 – 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.

How

Beginning the week of August 10, employees and students will be invited via email to upload the CoVerified app onto their phones. Through this app, participants will be able to sign up for a 15-minute time slot that works for them once (or twice) each week at either of the two testing locations.

Note: the app is not yet ready for upload—please wait to receive instructions via email before attempting to use CoVerified. 

Individuals will arrive to the testing site at the time of their choosing. (It is important to be on time to keep the process moving efficiently.) They will be instructed to queue up six feet apart while waiting (the floor will be clearly marked with where to stand). Each person will check-in with a Medical Assistant who will verify their identity, print a label for their specimen, and give them their test kit. They will then proceed to a station—separated from others by plexiglass on three sides—where they will swab their own nose. A trained observer, wearing face covering and gloves, on the other side of the plexiglass, will provide instructions and ensure the technique is appropriately executed. The participant will then give their specimen to that observer, sanitize their hands, and exit the testing site. 

Results

Samples will be transported daily to the Broad Institute and results will be returned in about 24 hours. Negative results will be sent as a push notification via the CoVerified app, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Participants will be contacted with a telephone call in the case of a positive test or if there was a problem processing their sample. Instructions regarding medical care, isolation, and contact tracing in the event of a positive test will also be delivered through the CoVerified app. Please note: if you do not receive your result before 5 p.m. the day after your test, please do not assume you have a positive test. Laboratories are occasionally inundated with samples—especially during this pandemic—and despite their best efforts, result delivery may be delayed. A delay in result delivery has only to do with the laboratory's ability to keep up with demand and nothing to do with the result itself. 

Contact Tracing

Suffolk will implement contact tracing for any member of our community who has tested positive and has been physically present on campus. Contact tracing identifies and informs anyone who has come in contact with an infected person. It is crucial to identify those who have unknowingly become infected and to help control the spread of the virus in our community. The individuals involved in contact tracing will be trained, certified, and mindful of protecting each person’s privacy to the degree possible.

What the Science Tells Us About Covid-19

Transmission

  • The CDC states that the primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person. Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
  • Wearing a face covering is the best way to prevent the virus spreading from you to others in addition to maintaining social distance whenever possible. Staying six feet or more away from other people is the best way to prevent the virus spreading from others to you.

Testing

  • The CDC recommends that in areas with moderate to substantial community transmission (e.g., urban areas) where resources allow, colleges and universities may consider testing some or all asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff who have no known exposure (e.g., students in congregate housing such as residence halls) to identify outbreaks and inform control measures.
  • The two most meaningful factors to consider when developing a testing plan are 1) frequency of testing and 2) time between test and receipt of results.
    • Frequency of testing matters because if a test is conducted too early in the incubation period/too soon after an infection is acquired, the viral load may not yet be high enough to be detectable. This could lead to a false negative test result.
    • Time between test and receipt of results matters because a new infection could be acquired shortly after a test is conducted and a person, when receiving a negative test result after several days, may have a false sense that they are well when they may indeed have become infected in the time between the test and the receipt of results.

Immunity

  • While the study of COVID-19 involves ever-changing science, researchers agree that we can be reasonably certain that temporary immunity follows a positive infection, the duration of which seems to last about 90 days. This is the reason people can test positive for up to three months even after their symptoms have resolved and they are no longer contagious. For this reason, when a person tests positive for COVID-19 in our community, they will not be retested for 3 months. They will be able to reintegrate into our campus community assuming their symptoms are 100% resolved and they do not develop any new or recurrent COVID-19 symptoms during the 3 months that follow their positive test.
  • Positive antibody tests tell us that an individual has been infected. They do not tell us how recently that individual was infected, how strong their immunity might be, and/or how long that immunity might last. It is for this reason that antibody tests should not be considered when making clinical decisions about individuals and antibody tests are not part of our plan.

Suffolk's Testing Plan

  • The tests that will be conducted at Suffolk are Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests which are designed to detect active infection, not immunity. Our tests were developed by the Broad Institute in Cambridge. The Broad’s PCR test has a reportedly high sensitivity rate (the true positive rate) and thus a low rate of false negatives. The limit of detection (the lowest concentration of virus that can be detected in a sample within 95% sensitivity) is 60 viral copies going into RNA extraction—the average viral load for COVID patients at presentation is 100-fold higher than that. This means that the chance of getting a false negative with our test is very low.
  • Our testing schedule is based on the fact that frequency of testing is of paramount importance to ensure a testing plan is meaningful—both for the community and for the people within it. We will be testing participants so often that we need not be concerned about continuous false negative results for any given participant. COVID-19 viral load increases rapidly during the first five days of illness. Therefore, repeating a test in five to seven days—more often in certain populations—will likely pick up any infection that was missed one week prior. 

What Close Contact Really Means

  • For COVID-19 specifically, a close contact is defined by the CDC an individual who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to their positive test) until the time the patient is isolated.
  • If an individual is able to maintain social distancing at all times, then they will not be considered a close contact by the public health authorities. Being in the same room with a COVID + person for more than 15 minutes does not equate to exposure if six to twelve feet of distance was maintained the entire time. Similarly, passing someone in a doorway or hallway—even if closer than six feet—does not equate to exposure because the duration of close proximity was momentary.
  • Face coverings, while they do not impact whether or not someone is considered a close contact by public authorities, do provide additional protection and should therefore be worn at all times—especially when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • The CDC recommends testing for all close contacts of persons diagnosed with COVID-19 because of the potential for asymptomatic and/or pre-symptomatic transmission. It is therefore part of our plan that contacts of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 will be quickly identified, notified, and tested. 

The Ways in Which Suffolk is Going Above and Beyond

  • Many colleges and universities are not able to offer testing at all. Many others are testing a random subset of their population using a type of testing plan referred to as sample testing. Others still are developing plans in which respiratory samples from several people are combined and then processed as one lab test. This is referred to as pool testing. While both models have merit, we wish for every member of our on-campus community to know their own status and to know that every person with whom they interact on campus has recently tested negative.
  • Unlike many other institutes of higher education, Suffolk is not allowing residential students to have roommates, thus decreasing transmission risk within our residential community and protecting the entire community as a whole. This policy also aides in our efforts to provide appropriate spaces for isolation or quarantine.
  • Suffolk plans to require students and to strongly encourage employees to receive an annual flu vaccine, though not mandated to do so by the Commonwealth. Limiting the volume of individuals exhibiting flu-like symptoms on campus (several of which match the COVID-19 symptom set), via a high flu vaccine rate, will decrease unnecessary utilization of COVID-19 testing resources and designated isolation rooms on campus and ultimately limit the demand on Boston’s healthcare resources.
  • As a key part of our plan for reopening, daily health screening/symptom tracking (including taking one’s temperature and reporting any known exposure to COVID-19) by students and employees via the CoVerified app will be required in order to access any building or program on campus. Suffolk has decided that test results will automatically flow into this app as an added safety feature that will ensure COVID + individuals are not allowed on campus.

Covid-19 Testing Restrictions and Exemptions

Suffolk University has partnered with the Broad Institute to adopt COVID-19 testing that will detect active infection. Surveillance testing is the term for the type of testing model that provides tests to asymptomatic people within a group. The method of test collection is an anterior nares swab that individuals will administer themselves. The swab is small and is not inserted deep into the nose. This collection method is dramatically different than the more widely used nasopharyngeal collection method that some of you may have experienced. It is not likely to elicit coughing or sneezing and it is not painful.

This testing will be provided free of charge to all participants.

Who

All individuals who are returning to campus can participate. Once an individual is tested, they will need to commit to continued testing throughout the semester. Occasional testing is not as meaningful as continued testing in regards to controlling community spread of COVID-19. For this reason, individuals will not be able to access campus buildings or programs if they do not adhere to their testing schedule.

How Often

Testing frequency is determined by the student or employee’s level of risk for novel coronavirus exposure related to being on campus, as well as personal circumstances. Based upon the June 2020 Report of the Massachusetts Higher Education Testing Group and informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the risk categories and their associated testing frequencies.

Low Risk

Employees who come to campus, have little or no contact with students, do not take public transportation to get to/from campus, and work in environments with appropriate protocols in place to limit the spread of infection (social distancing, face coverings, etc.) At Suffolk:

  • This includes employees who work in certain administrative or academic support settings across campus (e.g. Advancement, Finance, Human Resources, etc.).
  • Students do not fall into this risk category.

These individuals will be invited to participate in once weekly surveillance testing if they choose.

Medium Risk

Employees and nonresidential students who come to campus, have regular contact with residential students, do not take public transportation to get to/from campus, and work/study in environments with appropriate protocols in place to limit the spread of infection (social distancing, face coverings, etc.) At Suffolk, this includes:

  • Faculty, teaching staff, some student services staff, commuter students and students studying remotely but who will still come to campus for work-study jobs or to access services.

These individuals will be recommended for once weekly surveillance testing.

High Risk

All residential students, and employees and commuter students who come to campus, have regular contact with residential students, and/or take public transportation to/from campus. This group also includes anyone who comes to campus and has a medically defined risk factor for severe COVID illness. At Suffolk, this includes:

  • Students living in residence halls and hotels.
  • Staff in several high-contact settings across campus, as well as our vendors (ABM, Sodexo, etc.).
  • Anyone who must take public transportation to/from campus.
  • Anyone with a medical condition that puts them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness. 

These individuals will be recommended either for once weekly or twice weekly surveillance testing depending upon their particular circumstances.

Where

There will be two testing sites on campus that will be open starting the week of August 17—a smaller, fully accessible location in Sargent Hall and a larger one in the Sawyer Building.

Testing sites & hours

  • Sawyer Building, 8 Ashburton Place, 1st floor—Monday–Friday, 7 a.m.–3 p.m.
  • Sargent Hall, 120 Tremont Street, Room 205— Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

How

Through the CoVerified app, non-symptomatic students and employees will be able to sign up for a 15-minute time slot.

Individuals will arrive to the testing site at the time of their choosing. (It is important to be on time to keep the process moving efficiently.) They will be instructed to queue up six feet apart while waiting (the floor will be clearly marked with where to stand).  Each person will check-in with a Medical Assistant who will verify their identity, print a label for their specimen. They will then proceed to swab their own nose.  A trained observer, wearing face covering and gloves, on the other side of the plexiglass, will provide instructions and ensure the technique is appropriately executed.  The participant will then give their specimen to that observer, sanitize their hands, and exit the testing site.

Results

Samples will be transported daily to the Broad Institute and results will normally be returned in about 24 hours. Negative results will be sent as a push notification via the CoVerified app, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Participants will be contacted with a telephone call in the case of a positive test or if there was a problem processing their sample. Instructions regarding medical care, isolation, and contact tracing in the event of a positive test will also be delivered through the CoVerified app. 

Please note: if you do not receive your result before 5 p.m. the day after your test, please do not assume you have a positive test. Laboratories are occasionally inundated with samples—especially during this pandemic—and despite their best efforts, result delivery may be delayed. A delay in result delivery has only to do with the laboratory's ability to keep up with demand and nothing to do with the result itself. 

Contact Tracing

Suffolk will implement contact tracing for any member of our community who has tested positive and has been physically present on campus. Contact tracing identifies and informs anyone who has come in contact with an infected person. It is crucial to identify those who have unknowingly become exposed to possible infection: this helps control the spread of the virus in our community. Individuals conducting contact tracing will be trained, certified, and mindful of protecting each person’s privacy to the degree possible. You are required to share the names of individuals with whom you have been in close contact.

What Science Tells Us About Covid-19

Transmission

  • The CDC states that the primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person. Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
  • Wearing a face covering is the best way to prevent the virus spreading from you to others in addition to maintaining social distance whenever possible. Staying six feet or more away from other people is the best way to prevent the virus spreading from others to you.

Testing

  • The CDC recommends that in areas with moderate to substantial community transmission (e.g., urban areas) where resources allow, colleges and universities may consider testing some or all asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff who have no known exposure(e.g., students in congregate housing such as residence halls) to identify outbreaks and inform control measures.
  • The two most meaningful factors to consider when developing a testing plan are 1) frequency of testing and 2) time between test and receipt of results.
  • Frequency of testing matters because if a test is conducted too early in the incubation period/too soon after an infection is acquired, the viral load may not yet be high enough to be detectable. This could lead to a false negative test result.
  • Time between test and receipt of results matters because a new infection could be acquired shortly after a test is conducted and a person, when receiving a negative test result after several days, may have a false sense that they are well when they may indeed have become infected in the time between the test and the receipt of results.

Immunity

  • While the study of COVID-19 involves ever-changing science, researchers agree that we can be reasonably certain that temporary immunity follows a positive infection, the duration of which seems to last about 90 days. This is the reason people can test positive for up to three months even after their symptoms have resolved and they are no longer contagious.
  • Positive antibody tests tell us that an individual has been infected. They do not tell us how recently that individual was infected, how strong their immunity might be, and/or how long that immunity might last. It is for this reason that antibody tests should not be considered when making clinical decisions about individuals and antibody tests are not part of our plan.

Suffolk's Testing Plan

  • The tests that will be conducted at Suffolk are Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests which are designed to detect active infection, not immunity. Our tests were developed by the Broad Institute in Cambridge. The Broad’s PCR test is reported to have a high sensitivity rate (the true positive rate) and thus a low rate of false negatives.The limit of detection (the lowest concentration of virus that can be detected in a sample within 95% sensitivity) is 60 viral copies going into RNA extraction—the average viral load for COVID patients at presentation is 100-fold higher than that. This means that the chance of getting a false negative with the Broad Institute's test is very low.
  • Our testing schedule is based on the fact that frequency of testing is of paramount importance to ensure a testing plan is meaningful—both for the community and for the people within it. We will be testing participants often enough to remove all reasonable risk of repeated false negative results for any given participant. COVID-19 viral load increases rapidly during the first five days of illness. Therefore, repeating a test in five to seven days—more often in certain populations—will likely pick up any infection that was missed one week prior.  

What Close Contact Really Means

  • For COVID-19 specifically, a close contact is defined by the CDC as an individual who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to their positive test) until the time the patient is isolated.
  • If an individual is able to maintain social distancing at all times, then they will not be considered a close contact by the public health authorities. Being in the same room with a COVID + person for more than 15 minutes does not equate to exposure if at least six to twelve feet of distance was maintained the entire time. Similarly, passing someone in a doorway or hallway—even if closer than six feet—does not rise to the level of close contact, because the duration of close proximity was momentary.
  • While face coverings do not affect public authorities’ determination of whether or not someone is considered to have had a close contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19, they do provide additional protection and should therefore be worn at all times—especially when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • The CDC recommends testing for all persons identified as having close contact with persons diagnosed with COVID-19, because of the potential for asymptomatic and/or pre-symptomatic transmission.

The Ways in Which Suffolk is Going Above and Beyond

  • Many colleges and universities are not able to offer testing at all. Many others are testing a random subset of their population using a type of testing plan referred to as sample testing. Others still are developing plans in which respiratory samples from several people are combined and then processed as one lab test. This is referred to as pool testing. While both models have merit, we wish for every member of our on-campus community to know their own status and to know that every person with whom they interact on campus has recently tested negative.
  • Unlike many other institutes of higher education, Suffolk is not allowing residential students to have roommates, thus decreasing transmission risk within our residential community and protecting the entire community as a whole. This policy also aides in our efforts to provide appropriate spaces for isolation or quarantine.
  • Suffolk plans to require students and to strongly encourage employees to receive an annual flu vaccine, though not mandated to do so by the Commonwealth. Limiting the volume of individuals exhibiting flu-like symptoms on campus (several of which match the COVID-19 symptom set), via a high flu vaccine rate, will decrease unnecessary utilization of COVID-19 testing resources and designated isolation rooms on campus and ultimately limit the demand on Boston’s healthcare resources.
  • As a key part of our plan, daily health screening/symptom tracking (including taking one’s temperature and reporting any known exposure to COVID-19) by students and employees via the CoVerified app will be required in order to access any building or program on campus. Suffolk has decided that test results will automatically flow into this app as an added safety feature that will ensure COVID + individuals are not allowed on campus.