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Campus COVID-19 testing program sees success in initial rollout

September 4, 2020

Caleb Adams-Hull
SWING BY THE GYM: Students, faculty and staff patiently wait to get tested for COVID-19 in Morrell Gym.

The first week of the semester saw the rollout of the College’s ambitious testing program for the fall. The plan dictates that students must be tested three times a week—Monday, Wednesday and Friday—for the first two weeks of the semester, and then twice a week—with one group tested on Mondays and Thursdays and the other tested on Tuesdays and Fridays—until campus closes before Thanksgiving break.

In the first step of this testing program, students were sent an at-home, self-administered test in the mail during the week of August 17. Students took the test on August 21 and sent it back the same day, allowing them to isolate at home if they tested positive and protecting the Brunswick community from potential exposure. Students were then tested again when they arrived on campus, heading straight to the testing stations set up in Morrell Gymnasium before unpacking in their on-campus residences.

Morrell Gym has been entirely transformed into a makeshift testing center for the program’s implementation, complete with stalls for testing and markers on the floor with reminders to stay six feet apart. It was constructed in collaboration with an architecture firm to design optimal flow and determine capacity. The tests are being administered in partnership with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and results are expected within 24 hours of the tests’ arrival. Students on campus are required to self-isolate in their dorm rooms until they receive two negative test results.

The College expects to process approximately 35,000 tests through the Broad Institute this semester, with the cost totaling around $875,000.

Dan Davies, assistant athletic director for sports performance, has been largely responsible for running the testing operations in Morrell Gym. Each test consists of a self-administered nasal swab, with staff present to check students in and oversee the procedure. According to Mike Ranen, Bowdoin’s COVID-19 resource coordinator, this staff consists of employees from across the College, as well as a few people who were contracted from outside the College.

Students schedule their 15-minute testing appointments using the CampusGroups app, and the testing center is open between 7 a.m. and either 4 or 4:30 p.m. depending on the day. Initially, staff expected that 18 tests could be processed per 15 minutes, but so far testing is going more quickly than anticipated.

“We have not actually increased the number of people per time period yet, but at the time we’re seeing people moving through it quickly with very little lines,” said Ranen in an interview with the Orient on Microsoft Teams.

Ranen said that the increased speed might permit changes in the testing schedule, allowing the College to close the testing center and send the tests to the Broad Institute earlier in the day, but there are complications that would arise should these changes take place.

“One of the challenging factors in that, though, is any employees who are late shift employees, like dining services, housekeeping, security officers or facility workers who start their day in the afternoon,” Ranen explained. “We want to make sure that we can also test them.”

Elise Hocking ’22, who serves as head proctor in Hyde Hall, has been tested five times since arriving on campus on August 22.

“Every time it’s been very efficient and quick, so they’ve got it down really well,” said Hocking in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’m happy that it’s not going to be a time-intensive process because of how frequently we’re doing it.”

In addition to the student testing program, faculty and staff who are in frequent contact with students will also be tested twice a week, and faculty and staff who are less likely to interact with students will be tested once a week. So far, 2,142 tests have been administered to students and 2,034 tests have been administered to faculty and staff.

“I think everybody is understanding the importance of [the testing program]; people are understanding how to schedule their tests, people are understanding how to go about taking their tests,” said Ranen. “It is going smoother than expected, I would say, which is wonderful.”

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