Since the College reopened to students at the end of August 2020, students, faculty and staff have undergone rigorous testing for Covid-19 two or even three times a week. While walks to the testing center – formerly Morrell Gymnasium and now Farley Field House – are entrenched in the collective consciousness of the university 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 in South Portland, Maine, to transport Covid samples from campus to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they are being tested. at Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard (Broad).
With more than two decades of collaboration, General Courier has been a long-time partner of the College.
“Multiple departments used [General Courier] before the pandemic for transportation of marketing materials, same-day pickup, … delivery of time-sensitive business documents and transportation of medical specimens for analysis,” wrote the College’s Chief Procurement and Risk Officer, James Kelley, in a e-mail to the East.
Once the pandemic began, the College expanded its relationship with General Courier to streamline the testing process.
“We are required by Broad to use a courier 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 transport of Covid-19 test samples from Brunswick to Cambridge as ‘designated urgent delivery’. This means that the samples are taken directly from Brunswick to Cambridge. Although the courier service operates throughout much of the North East, the trip from Brunswick to Cambridge is one of the longest General Courier has made.
“We handle just about everything…from Maine to [New] Jersey,” Pavis said. “Usually it’s about three hours in total… It’s a 4:30 [p.m.] pick up at Farley Field House where we meet a Bowdoin[representative]. And then we go down it from there.
Despite the high volume of traffic in the Cambridge area in the early evening, samples typically arrive in 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 education institutions, has processed more than 32 million Covid tests since March 2020.
According to Stacey Gabriel, senior director of Broad’s genomics program, barcodes on the sides of vials are scanned upon arrival to track samples through the testing process. Next, Broad employees transfer the fluid-containing cells from the patient’s 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 enters into a system accessible by the College as well as the Maine CDC. Specific employees involved in 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 faculty and staff prescribing physician, have access to a secure area of the software CareEvolve which lists all results as they come in,” Ranen wrote.
Going forward, the College plans to continue its working relationship with the courier service.
“We anticipate that the College will require courier services as part of its normal business operations, as it did prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, and we will likely continue to use this trusted partner for years to come” , wrote Kelly.