On November 20, the public got a glimpse into the new approaches to COVID-19 testing coming out of Kendall Square. Experts with specialties in mapping the human genome, best in class brand and marketing strategy, and scientific operations came together to answer the critical questions we’re all asking ourselves about testing, which sits at the intersection of public health and our economic recovery. 

With cases on the rise across the country and even greater uncertainty heading into the holidays, it was important for global leaders in public health innovation to share their expert insights, updates on testing models, and outlooks for the months ahead. The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung moderated this discussion between Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, CIC Health, and LabCentral to suss out the most important details to keep us all safe and informed, straight from the source, as we make plans for the holidays. Here’s what you need to know:

  • LabCentral is in clinical trials for an at-home antibody test. In partnership with E25, LabCentral has a clinical study underway for all on site employees that use a rapid antibody test to detect viral load. This is not your traditional nasal swab test; the spit test produces rapid results at home – similar to a pregnancy test (3-10 minutes max) and will cost $5 or less when it goes to market.
  • University labs with PCR machines have the capacity to test a community. The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard adapted their labs to mass produce PCR tests over a weekend in March. All labs with PCR machines can do surveillance to broadly screen individuals or communities to spot outbreaks. 
  • Even when we have effective vaccines, we’ll still need testing. We won’t need the same volume of tests we have now, but especially with 20 – 30% of the population skeptical about whether or not they will even get vaccinated, we’ll need to continue testing for asymptomatic carriers to prevent virus spread.
  • Communication is key for fighting a global pandemic. Knowing why testing matters and how it works–where you can get tested if you need an appointment, and what resources are available must be clear. We’re seeing long lines at testing sites or worse, lack of testing because the public lacks clear communication about this critical information. 
  • In order to contain the spread, we need more testing. A state like Massachusetts, with a mid to high range of COVID-19 cases, would optimally benefit from twice a week testing for most of the population. This would help identify positive individuals and clusters across the Commonwealth. 

And, with a new president-elect set to assume office in January, Kendall experts have a few words of wisdom for his COVID-19 Task Force:

  1. Prioritize mask mandates across the country and investment in testing – especially rapid testing. This systematic approach will help us detect populations and people at risk early on and help prevent community spread. 
  2. Implement effective communications campaigns. Leveraging media mediums, including social, and partnering expert scientists with pop culture influencers will help creatively engage people to help stop the spread.
  3. Help the FDA become more nimble. With so many hurdles for small innovative businesses, especially in the diagnostic solutions space, timely turnaround for approval will help us all access solutions faster. 

The encouraging news of November has been that effective vaccines are on the horizon for the public in 2021, but the real-time rise in COVID-19 cases is sobering. There’s a famous expression that goes, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” As we head into the dark winter months of the second surge in cases, testing and the public health collaborations coming out of Kendall’s innovation epicenter actively provide a collective beacon for us all – guiding our way to a healthier new year. 

Watch the full Kendall on the Frontlines: New Approaches to COVID-19 Testing here