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Documenting Bowdoin’s Covid-19 test transport

February 25, 2022

Ari Bersch
TESTS ON TIRES: An inconspicuous General Courier vehicle prepares to depart the College for Cabridge, Mass. Members of the Bowdoin administrators detail the College’s history and ongoing relationship with the courier service.

Since the College reopened to students in late August 2020, students, faculty and staff have undergone rigorous testing for Covid-19 twice or even three times each week. While walks to the testing center—once Morrell Gymnasium and now Farley Field House—are ingrained in the collective conscience of the College community, what happens to Covid samples after they are collected remains a mystery to most.

Eighteen months ago, the College partnered with General Courier, a delivery service located in South Portland, Maine, to transport Covid samples from campus to Cambridge, Mass., where they are analyzed at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard (Broad).

With over two decades of collaboration, General Courier is a longtime partner of the College.

“Multiple departments used [General Courier] prior to the pandemic for the transport of marketing materials, same day pick-up, … delivery of time-sensitive business documents and transporting medical specimens for analysis,” the College’s Procurement and Risk Manager James Kelley wrote in an email to the Orient.

Once the pandemic began, the College expanded its relationship with General Courier to streamline the testing process.

“We’re required by Broad to use a courier service instead of just using an employee or shipping,” Mike Ranen, Covid-19 resource coordinator, wrote in an email to the Orient.

Rob Pavis, a dispatcher for General Courier, classified the transportation of Covid-19 test samples from Brunswick to Cambridge as a “designated rush delivery.” This means that samples are taken directly from Brunswick to Cambridge.  Although the courier service operates in much of the northeast, the trip from Brunswick to Cambridge is one of the longest that General Courier makes.

“We pretty much run everything … from Maine down to [New] Jersey,” Pavis said.  “Usually it’s about three hours total … It’s a 4:30 [p.m.] pick-up at Farley Field House where we meet a Bowdoin[representative].  And then we take it right down from there.”

Despite the high volume of traffic in the Cambridge area in the early evening hours, the samples usually arrive at Broad by 8:00 p.m.

Broad also provides testing to several of Bowdoin’s peer institutions, including Amherst College, Bates College, Colby College and Williams College. The Institute, which only issues testing resources to higher educational institutions, has processed more than 32 million Covid tests since March 2020.

According to Stacey Gabriel, senior director of Broad’s genomics program, the barcodes on the sides of vials are scanned upon arrival in order to track the samples throughout the testing process. Thereafter, Broad employees transfer liquid-containing cells from the patient collection tube to a plate where nucleic acid in the form of RNA is extracted from the cells. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Covid-19 then determines the results, which Broad  inputs into a system accessible by the College as well as to the Maine CDC. Specific employees involved with the College’s Covid-19 response can also access these results.

“A limited number of staff, including the Covid isolation management team, health services and Dr. Kristin Parris, the ordering physician for faculty and staff, have access to a secure area of the CareEvolve software that lists all results as they come in,” Ranen wrote.

Looking ahead, the College plans to continue its working relationship with the courier service.

“We anticipate the College will require courier services in the course of its normal business operations as it did before the pandemic began in 2020, and we will likely continue to use this trusted partner in the years to come,” Kelly wrote.


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