By Russell Payne ’21
Hobart and William Smith have, like many other Northeast colleges, partnered with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT for their testing strategy. The Broad institute, according to their COVID-19 Diagnostic Processing Dashboard, has converted a “large-scale genomics facility” into a rapid result COVID-19 testing facility that as of Sept. 26 has conducted 2,000,000 tests since March 25.
Hobart and William Smith colleges have reported 34 positive cases out of a total 3,453 tests (as of Sept. 26) making the positive test rate just under 1 in 100. This is about double the rolling seven-day average for the Broad institute of 0.45% positive tests but well below the cumulative 2% positive test rate. Notably about 0.5% or 1 in 200 tests have been inconclusive or invalidated.
Information from the Broad Institute can be found here: https://covid19-testing.broadinstitute.org/
Hobart and William Smith’s COVID-19 dashboard can be found here: https://www2.hws.edu/opening/dashboard/
Testing however is only one part of a set of protocols that the colleges are following on the recommendation of the medical community. The colleges are following a three-part plan including alterations and additions to the Community Standards, contact tracing and rigorous testing as well as separate isolation facilities for students who are diagnosed with COVID.
The 24 hour turnaround time as provided by the Broad institute is an important part of the colleges’ strategy because it allows the colleges, in conjunction with county health officials, to track the outbreak quickly and isolate people who may be infected. Although the accuracy of the tests remain in part speculative due to an unknown prevalence of COVID-19 in the general population, the PCR test used by the Broad Institute and here on campus “saw 100% concordance with the established result” in comparison with the FDA-test according to DR. Brandon Barile. Thus, students on campus should be confident in the efficacy of the COVID-19 testing protocols here on campus.
The Broad institute test importantly is more affordable that most private labs. The Broad Institute tests are $25/test whereas some private labs charge as much as $150 per test.
Through contact tracing, isolation, and rigorous testing the goal is to keep the number of active cases on campus below 100. At 100 cases the colleges, and perhaps some of the surrounding area will be required to go into a mandatory 2-week quarantine. After the quarantine period the continuation of in person classes will be reassessed by public health officials. This reassessment will be based on the severity of the outbreak, the rate of transmission and the colleges’ (and the students’) ability to adhere to public health guidelines as well as the colleges’ reopening plan.
For our part, as students we should do everything in our power to help stop the spread of the disease recognizing that if the caseload hits 100 the situation will ultimately be out of the colleges’ control. At the height of the most recent outbreak the colleges had 26 active cases – over one quarter of the cases needed for a mandatory quarantine to ensue. Although the situation has since been contained it is easy to see how a single outbreak could quickly lead to a mandatory quarantine scenario.