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Dr. Deborah Birx warns about COVID spread in small gatherings; praises aggressive college testing as model

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The frequent, recurrent testing on college campuses should serve as a model for communities at large, she said, so they can detect cases as quickly as the schools.

“It gives me really great hope to see how the college students have modified their behavior because they know what it takes to be safe,” she said. “And they have been able to mostly keep themselves safe with very low test positivity rates.”

Birx commended the Broad Institute for its key role in testing in the Northeast. Soon after the crisis began in March, the lab converted its laboratory into a high-throughput COVID-19 test processing center.

This spring, the institute signed contracts with 108 public and private colleges in the region to provide testing for students, faculty, and staff. Among the 1.7 million tests conducted for the colleges and universities so far, the positivity rate is 0.1 percent, or approximately 1 in 1,000, according to the Broad. The most recent seven-day average positivity rate for the state is 1.0 percent, according to the Department of Public Health.

The Broad collects samples from the schools and processes the tests for $25 per test, a discounted rate set for the schools compared to the $35 to $50 the institute regularly charges.

Birx was scheduled to meet with Governor Charlie Baker after visiting the Broad Institute.
Birx was scheduled to meet with Governor Charlie Baker after visiting the Broad Institute.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“This is really the best part of our COVID response is when you see hospitals transcend their competitive status, when you see universities transcend their normal competition to work together putting the students and the safety of the students first,” she said.

Birx also toured the testing facility that Boston University has set up on its campus. That institution tests many students twice a week. She was also expected to meet with Governor Charlie Baker later