As Bowdoin’s most important mechanism for tracking campus coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, Bowdoin Health Services has taken on a more prominent role in campus life as they work to manage routine testing, conduct symptom evaluations and provide regular medical care to students and College employees.
In addition to routine visits—Health Services is offering its usual services, some via telemedicine, to all students with campus access—Health Services is also coordinating the COVID-19 testing that happens two to three times a week for students, staff and faculty in Morrell Gym.
While results from those PCR tests are processed at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA within 24 hours, Bowdoin Health Services has purchased a PCR machine from the California-based molecular diagnostics company Cepheid that can get results back in an hour. Unlike the Broad Institute’s test, Bowdoin’s machine requires a more intrusive nasal sample. For this reason, the machine is only used for testing students who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms to quickly confirm whether they have the virus.
“The sample that goes in our machine is a harder sample to obtain from a person. A nasopharyngeal swab goes to the back of the throat through the nose, which is not a comfortable thing at all,” said Director of Health Services Dr. Jeffrey Maher in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “It’s doable, but it’s not something we can do to someone three times a week. They’d never come back!”
The rapid PCR machine was also used during move-in days in early February to confirm the results of two students who tested positive using a rapid antigen test.
On February 5 and 6, during the two move-in days, the College partnered with Midcoast Hospital to contract additional staff to process the results of the rapid antigen tests. Maher explained that this partnership was just one part of an ongoing relationship with the Hospital.
“The relationship was already built. Anytime we need something from Midcoast or they need something from us, we share those things,” Maher said.
Maher explained that this partnership will likely be utilized again when vaccines are available to Bowdoin students. When Midcoast Hospital received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine in December, Bowdoin offered to help store doses in the deep freezers in the physics department. So far, Brunswick has not received vaccines in large enough quantities for this to be necessary.
Currently, Brunswick is vaccinating residents with priority, such as residents over 70 years old and COVID-19 response personnel, at the Town of Brunswick Recreation Center, located in Brunswick Landing. Maher believes that if enough COVID-19 vaccines become available in Maine, the College would be able to create a vaccination center right on campus, most likely at Farley Field House.
“If the rollout speeds up to the point where students could be vaccinated, we’d work with Midcoast to offer to be a site. We know that, they know that. We have the people. We just need the vaccine itself,” said Maher.