Broad Institute key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 across Union and the Northeast

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Michael Rosenbaum

Union’s testing center in Hale House is the location for students to test twice weekly

Mark D’Alessandro, Contributing Writer

Part of Union College’s program to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus is a regimen of testing made possible in partnership with the Broad Institute, a research lab associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The Broad Institute services roughly 130 colleges and universities across New England and New York including schools participating in the Liberty League, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and the Ivy League. According to the Broad Institute, approximately one in twenty COVID-19 tests in the United States are processed at the Broad Institute. However, even at the reduced cost that the Broad Institute offers for steady volume, the cost to Union College is significant.

The concept of providing a COVID-19 testing service for higher education emerged in May 2020 as the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts contacted the Broad Institute for help in providing a testing service for its member institutions. Before this point, the Broad Institute had served a number of research and academic functions, including drug development and cancer research. The Broad Institute developed its COVID-19 testing capabilities in the latter part of 2020 to enable the return of students to college campuses. 

In addition to college testing, Broad Institute also services community health during the pandemic, especially in Massachusetts. Broad Institute services the City of Cambridge’s program to provide testing for nursing homes, homeless shelters, and students and staff in the city’s primary and secondary education systems, part of a larger statewide initiative. Massachusetts Senior Care Association has also taken advantage of the Broad Institute’s service to provide testing for at-risk low income senior citizens of Massachusetts. The Broad Institute’s communications team stated online in September of 2020 that “Broad’s testing mission is focused on serving public needs. The support of higher education builds on Broad’s commitment to serving Massachusetts and surrounding areas.” 

Union College currently operates under the Broad Institute’s standard collegiate testing program. Testing supplies and materials are provided at the reduced cost of $15 per each individual test, as the Broad Institute provides a reduced cost in circumstances where testing will remain at a steady volume or is essential for public health. According to their website, the cost of a standard Broad Institute test ranges from $35 to $50 compared to a private lab’s typical $100 to $150 fee. Union College is further responsible for collecting and shipping the tests back to the Broad Institute lab located in Cambridge.

The Broad institute’s testing enables Union College and other school’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at a cost of $15 per test, that means that with Union College’s 9,228 tests as of January 27 according to the Union College COVID-19 dashboard, that the college has spent $138,420 on Broad Institute testing services for the Winter 2022 term alone. Union College did not respond to comment on the cost of individual tests. The aid of the Broad Institute has been a major contributing factor in Union’s success in it’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Broad Institute has not only been a major asset to colleges and universities across the Northeast in their commitment to safeguarding the health of their students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities, and also in providing testing for high risk populations across the state of Massachusetts.