Ginkgo Bioworks Awarded Grant for AI-enabled Forecasting of Measles Outbreaks

Ginkgo epidemiological modeling experts and Northeastern University researchers awarded new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Today we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build an open-access, AI-enabled measles forecasting model to empower proactive public health measures, such as immunization campaigns, in partnership with Northeastern University researchers Alessandro Vespignani and Sam Scarpino.

Measles is a highly contagious and often severe disease that most commonly affects children.

While the widespread availability of measles vaccines has dramatically reduced the disease burden over the past several decades, cases are on the rise in the U.S. this year, and global outbreaks continue to cause significant illness and mortality, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. These consequences are largely preventable through early interventions, but getting ahead of major outbreaks is difficult when access to data is limited.

With support from the Gates Foundation, expert epidemiologists and modelers from Ginkgo Bioworks and Northeastern University will develop a measles forecasting model to assess the risk of outbreaks and inform decision-making for timely interventions. Because measles reporting is often sparse, especially in low-resource settings, the model will draw upon traditional and non-traditional data, including public health reports, travel patterns, economic activity, and other factors, and utilize AI approaches such as machine learning and deep learning to structure and analyze a multitude of data sources to produce actionable insights.

“With support from the Gates Foundation, our project with Ginkgo Bioworks sets a new standard for what can be achieved when academia, industry, and philanthropy come together to develop global health solutions. By bringing together the expertise of multiple sectors and modern AI capabilities, we can create powerful, innovative tools that will provide critical information for safeguarding communities worldwide against the threat of measles.”

Alessandro Vespignani, Director of the Network Science Institute and Sternberg Family Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University

The forecasting model will be available open-access to help the global health community understand how likely it is that measles will emerge and spread within a given area, with the intent of enabling them to better allocate scarce resources and reduce the global burden of measles.

If we wait until large pockets of measles show up in hospital systems to launch public health responses, we are missing a critical window to act and slow the spread of this debilitating and highly contagious disease. Modern data and AI tools can shift the biosecurity and public health paradigm from reactive to proactive by helping global health leaders make more timely, effective decisions to prevent outbreaks from happening in the first place.

We believe the technologies we’re developing will give us the ability to get ahead of the curve for measles and other biological threats.

Ginkgo Biosecurity Launches Doha-Based Pathogen Monitoring Center, CUBE-D, Establishing Middle East Hub for Global Bioradar, at Qatar Free Zones

Today we’re pleased to announce the signing of an agreement with Qatar Free Zones Authority (QFZ) and Doha Venture Capital (DVC) to build the first Center for Unified Biosecurity Excellence in Doha (CUBE-D) within Qatar Free Zones.

  • CUBE-D’s advanced platform is expected to serve as a nucleus for global pathogen monitoring efforts and be a key hub in Ginkgo’s bioradar network.

  • The partners believe that CUBE-D will establish Qatar and its free zones as pioneers of biosecurity innovation, enabling the growth of the country’s bioeconomy by bringing highly skilled jobs and businesses to Doha, as well as bolstering biosecurity infrastructure in the region and the world by strengthening Ginkgo’s global bioradar capabilities.

  • With the new site in Doha providing expanded monitoring capabilities into the Middle EastAfrica, and Asia, and connecting into Ginkgo’s existing network across the world, the launch of CUBE-D will bring the world closer to the goal of creating global infrastructure to protect against biological risks.

The signing took place alongside QFZ’s and DVC’s participation in the Web Summit Qatar, in a ceremony attended by HE. Dr. Ahmad Al-Sayed, Minister of State and Chairman of QFZ/DVC, HE. Mohammed bin Ali Al Mannai, Minister of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and Vice Chairman of QFZ/DVC, and Matthew McKnight, General Manager for Biosecurity, Ginkgo Bioworks, along with executives from the ministry and the three signing entities.

Supporting global programs modeled in part after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Traveler Genomic Surveillance (TGS) program, which tracks and analyzes pathogens collected at seven international airports in the U.S., CUBE-D will be a foundational piece of biosecurity and health security infrastructure in Ginkgo’s multi-continent, integrated early warning system for biological threats.

CUBE-D plans to support analysis of data collected from pathogen monitoring stations in both Qatar and partner countries, such as airports, municipalities, and agricultural sites by leveraging cutting-edge analytical platforms powered by artificial intelligence and developed by Ginkgo. Environmental and other anonymous, non-clinical samples will be regularly scanned for signals of emerging outbreaks, offering insight into how pathogens travel and evolve and building detection capabilities for natural, accidental, or intentional biothreats.

Advanced sequencing and bioinformatics tools aim to pinpoint the genetic signatures of pathogens and provide early warning for global health and national security leaders in as close to real-time as possible. Coupled with Ginkgo’s leading epidemiology and risk analytics platforms, this type of biointelligence will feed into predictive models to facilitate rapid response, such as medical countermeasures, before a biological threat impacts lives and economies.

H.E. Dr. Ahmad Al-Sayed, Minister of State and Chairman of QFZ and DVC: “We are delighted to welcome Ginkgo Bioworks, a pioneer in the biotech space and an anchor player joining an expanding community of innovative companies, within the free zones in Qatar. Ginkgo’s partnership with our tech development fund, DVC, will foster innovation and enhance the overall biotech ecosystem within Qatar and the broader region. At QFZ, we are aiming to become a place of choice for companies shaping the future of the biotech industry. We look forward to supporting and collaborating with Ginkgo Bioworks in their establishment and growth in the region and beyond.”

Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks: “The world needs effective biosecurity. Building hubs like CUBE-D to connect Ginkgo’s network of international biosurveillance nodes transcends regionalism and lays a foundation for the future. After all, biology doesn’t respect borders. I am proud of Ginkgo’s ability to technically and socially synthesize this global immune system, one node and hub at a time. Everybody’s health is connected, and CUBE-D is a foundational step forward for global biosecurity.”

Matthew McKnight, General Manager of Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks: “CUBE-D represents the next generation of biosecurity infrastructure. By leveraging lessons from COVID-19, Ginkgo is building a global bioradar system to detect a wide range of known and unknown biothreats.  As a central connectivity hub with over two-thirds of the world’s population within an eight-hour flight, we believe Qatar and its free zones are ideally positioned to anchor these bioradar efforts.”

Rwanda’s Minister of State for Health, Yvan Butera: “As inaugural members of Ginkgo’s global pathogen monitoring network, we are extremely supportive of expanded regional investment in high-end monitoring solutions and excited to have the opportunity to continue growing our biosecurity capabilities by leveraging partnership with the new Ginkgo CUBE facility in Doha.”

IARPA B24IC Research Contract: Developing Breakthrough Biointelligence and Biosecurity Innovations

IARPA B24IC Research Contract

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve been awarded a research contract from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research and development arm of the U.S. Intelligence Community, for the Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community (B24IC) program. Through this program, we aim to develop a biosensor that records time-ordered cellular memory for improved traceability and biosecurity.

A revolutionary biosensor

As a part of the collaboration, we will build on recent scientific breakthroughs to create a revolutionary biosensor that can continuously record and store gene expression data in chronological order within a microbial genome, and to also create processes to retrieve this data to reconstruct the exposure history of a microbe. This tool would allow users to monitor the lab conditions and processes to which the cell was subjected. This cellular “flight recorder” would function as a synthetic memory device, registering cellular histories to support investigations into origination, attribution, and specific use, including excursions into higher/lower temperatures and contact with other substances.

Our ability to computationally design hundreds of thousands of DNA sequences and strains and to physically build and screen them at scale for faster discovery can provide the B24IC program with the capabilities to realize this project’s goal. These capabilities include our capacities in protein design and as well as the engineering expertise needed to develop this genomically integrated DNA-recording system and to build a series of intracellular biosensors that can revolutionize biosecurity through the use of robust cellular memory systems.

“The rapid proliferation of biotechnology stands to pose new national security risks that the Intelligence Community will need to counter and mitigate,” said B24IC Program Manager Dr. Michael Patterson in a recent press release. “B24IC could boost our approach to biointelligence and biosecurity far beyond our current understanding—years or decades into the future.”

Furthering our partnership with IARPA

This announcement deepens our partnership with IARPA to boost the nation’s approach to biointelligence and biosecurity. We have a history of partnering with IARPA, most recently through its Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) program, which was created to augment and improve current biodetection and biosurveillance capabilities. Through the program, we developed a novel computational platform for detecting genetic engineering: ENDAR (Engineered Nucleotide Detection and Ranking).

This project is a milestone for us in our growing role as a trusted biosecurity partner to the U.S. government. We are deeply committed to this space, which you can see in our implementation of large-scale pathogen monitoring infrastructure nationally and worldwide, and in the breakthrough biosecurity tools we’ve already developed to detect and deter the misuse of bioengineering.

The Biden Administration’s Executive Order on advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing includes an important mandate for all of us in the field to work on advancing biosafety and biosecurity. This is absolutely critical for the growth of the bioeconomy. At Ginkgo, we’re excited to develop biosecurity innovations that have the potential to both keep us safe and drive innovation in responsible bioengineering.

This research is based upon work supported in part by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), via N66001-23-C-4509. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of ODNI, IARPA, or the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation therein.

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New Biosecurity Capabilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Empowering the DRC to form the foundation for a biosecurity and bioeconomy platform

Today, we are pleased to announce that we’ve entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the intent of developing and implementing new biosecurity capabilities in Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve entered this MOU alongside the Institut National de la Recherche Biomédicale (“INRB”).

The goal of our planned partnership is to support DRC’s public health institutions as they work to address biosecurity challenges in the region. We, through our biosecurity and public health unit, Concentric by Ginkgo, plan to collaborate with the INRB to equip these institutions with biosecurity tools and training. We also plan to provide the secure data infrastructure they need to leverage automation, data analysis, bioinformatics capabilities, and other critical genomic sequencing technologies. Our collaboration aims to empower the DRC to form the foundation for a biosecurity and bioeconomy platform that serves the people of the DRC and the surrounding region.

Enabling and advancing biosecurity initiatives for all

We recognize the importance of international collaboration and cooperation to promote global health security as biological threats emerge. Low-resource areas often lack the infrastructure to monitor and respond effectively to biological threats, putting the people of these regions at a heightened outbreak risk. Investing in pathogen monitoring infrastructure in areas such as the DRC is essential for building systems that are capable of detecting and responding to emerging infectious diseases.

We’re thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the INRB. Our aim is to continue to build upon a global weather map of critical infrastructure for tracking the spread and evolution of infectious disease, creating a safer and more secure world.

Effective pathogen monitoring and data sharing capabilities can empower government officials, community leaders, and other stakeholders to make informed public health decisions. In the long-term, these capabilities can also be leveraged to form the foundation for a sustainable regional bioeconomy.

“Continued collaboration is imperative to protect public health against emerging pathogens, in the DRC and around the world. We look forward to our partnership with Concentric, which will allow us to bring cutting-edge technology and a holistic approach to advance the DRC’s biosafety capacities,” declared Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, Director General of the INRB.

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

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Tracking Pathogen Variants with Rwanda Biomedical Centre

Monitoring for COVID-19 variants at Kigali International Airport

We’re excited to announce that we’re partnering with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) on a one-year pathogen monitoring program at Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport (KGL) to identify new and emerging viral variants.

Adding a new node to our pathogen monitoring network

Concentric by Ginkgo and RBC will collaborate to detect the virus on arriving international flights. We’ll sample aircraft wastewater and collect nasal swabs from travelers on a voluntary, anonymous basis. Our aim is to provide critical early warning public health insights to help inform strategies in Rwanda and beyond.

Ginkgo and RBC will work together to establish KGL as a new node in a global network of pathogen monitoring infrastructure, complementing the insights generated from Concentric’s existing travel biosecurity programs at several major international airports in the U.S. The program builds on Ginkgo’s previously announced MOU to develop and implement biosecurity capabilities in Rwanda.

A public health radar to inform targeted response strategies

Mitigating the risk of biological threats, including emerging viral variants, remains a global imperative that necessitates a robust early warning system. This pathogen monitoring program at Kigali International Airport will act like a public health radar, providing leaders with near-real-time data to inform targeted response strategies. We are excited to be partnering with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre—to stay ahead of the next variant or pathogen of concern, we must take an international approach to biosecurity.

RBC is Rwanda’s national health implementation agency, established in 2011 to improve the health of the Rwandan population by providing high quality, affordable and sustainable health care services. Ginkgo will support the end-to-end collection and analysis workflow with materials, training and logistical support, digital platform and data reporting, as well as bioinformatics and decision support services; RBC will contribute on-the-ground operational support for sample collection, testing, and sequencing.

Prof. Claude Muvunyi, the Director General of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre said, “As we continue to feel the impacts of emerging variants and pathogens, we recognize the need to create a sustainable public health and biosecurity infrastructure in Rwanda and internationally. We are thrilled to launch this program at Kigali International Airport in partnership with Ginkgo to enhance our biosecurity capabilities.”

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

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Detecting Engineered Biology with IARPA & Draper

New technologies to detect engineered DNA

We’re proud to announce the completion of IARPA’s Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) — a program created to augment and improve current biodetection and biosurveillance capabilities. The program was a collaboration between the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA; the research and development arm of the U.S. Intelligence community), Draper (a nonprofit engineering innovation firm), and Ginkgo.

We’ve developed a suite of new computational tools for FELIX, while Draper has developed a new experimental platform to help detect and identify when samples include genetically engineered biological systems. The results from the program will be presented on October 17, 2022 at 11am on YouTube.

Current methods for detecting signs of biological engineering are typically costly, slow, and capable of detecting only a subset of all possible genetic modifications. In collaboration with IARPA, Ginkgo developed an initial set of computational tools called ENDAR (Engineered Nucleotide Detection and Ranking) that assist trained analysts to identify genetic engineering in next generation sequencing (NGS) datasets. This software aims to make it possible for scientists to detect engineered DNA at scale.

Breakthrough for biosecurity

“Through their work on the FELIX program, Ginkgo and Draper have achieved two major breakthroughs for the biodetection community,” said David A. Markowitz, Program Manager at IARPA. “The ability to detect genetic engineering in complex biological samples has long been a moonshot goal, and these new capabilities are poised to transform national biosecurity efforts.”

Designed to work across a range of biological organisms that may be found in complex, multi-species environments, ENDAR tools and methods could provide early alerts to the presence of engineered organisms and help expedite appropriate responses, thereby mitigating adverse consequences.

Ginkgo has a core belief in the promise of engineered biology—a thriving bio-based economy that delivers benefits to society, the environment, and our health. We care deeply about securing that vision by ensuring that biology is engineered and deployed responsibly. Working with IARPA, we’ve developed a fundamentally new biosecurity capability that will enhance our ability to detect, characterize, and respond to biological threats. We’re excited to explore opportunities to deploy ENDAR as an integral component of our global biosecurity platform.

Draper’s contributions to FELIX, under its contract with IARPA, include development of a lab-based genetic test, a custom bioinformatics pipeline that contextualizes DNA sequencing data and miniaturized microarray hardware all with the goal of characterizing otherwise impossible to detect genetic engineering. Potential applications include biothreat detection, environmental monitoring, and food inspection.

“At Draper, we believe that advances in gene editing technology are creating new opportunities for biosecurity,” said Laura Seaman, Principal Scientist and Machine Intelligence group leader at Draper. “Under the FELIX program, we have developed a device and associated lab and computational methods that are sensitive enough to pick out an engineered organism in a complex environmental background containing millions of natural organisms—the signal-to-noise ratio is a significant improvement over current methods.”

The event featured a panel with participants including, Catherine Marsh, IARPA Director; David A. Markowitz, IARPA Program Manager; Joshua Dunn, Head of Design, Ginkgo Bioworks; Laura Seaman, Principal Scientist and Machine Intelligence Group Leader, at Draper; and Erin Rosenberger, Senior Member of Technical Staff, Biological Microsystems Group, at Draper. During the panel, the panelists will discuss the program findings and also feature a demo of the research results.

Watch a livestream of the presentation of results from the FELIX program on October 17, 2022 at 11am here.

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

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Developing Water Quality Biosensors with FREDSense

Ginkgo’s strain development capabilities to help develop advanced biosensors

Today, we’re excited to announce our partnership with FREDsense Technologies Corp, a next generation water quality platform company leveraging synthetic biology to build field kits for faster, cheaper, and more efficient analysis. Through this partnership, we seek to build four distinct microbial strain biosensors, compatible with FREDsense’s field-ready hardware for remote water quality monitoring applications.

Demand for scalable monitoring and testing systems has increased, as water quality becomes an ever-growing environmental and public health concern. Conventional water quality test results are often delayed, since samples must be transported to labs for chemical analysis. FREDsense builds portable solutions to efficiently assess the chemicals in the water at the source. This allows for rapid modification of water treatment processes in real-time without the need for external lab equipment.

Supporting real-time field detection of harmful molecules and toxins in any water source

The biosensors in development by Ginkgo aim to support real-time field detection of harmful molecules, and may be used to generate solutions for groundwater and industrial water management systems.

Partnering with FREDsense is an exciting opportunity to apply our strain development capabilities to powerful biosensor technology for an important application. Protecting our water sources is a mission critical initiative: life on this planet as we know it depends on it. We’re eager to work toward enhancing the capabilities of FREDsense’s platform to monitor for harmful contaminants in water.

“Water is our most critical resource, and we now have the technology to detect in real-time many of the threats or contaminants that can impact the water that our environments and communities depend on,” says David Lloyd, CEO of FREDsense. “Through this partnership with Ginkgo, we aim to introduce rapid, simple and accurate testing to deliver water quality monitoring systems to those that most need it. We believe that synthetic biology is the key to solving some of the biggest challenges facing the water industry globally and are very excited to partner with Ginkgo on this vision.”

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

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600,000 Noses Swabbed!

As the school year comes to a close, we are reflecting on an incredibly challenging year and the incredible hard work of our team, our lab network, and the teachers, nurses, administrators, and students that have worked so hard helping to keep their communities safe with pooled testing.

In the six months since our first pilot of classroom pooling, we have swabbed over 600,000 noses at 950 schools in 19 states. Kids at these schools have become public health advocates and leaders, helping their classmates with useful swabbing tips (boogers down!) and just generally being superheroes.

With the year wrapping up, communities and families are starting to turn their attention to what school might look like in the fall. While the situation has thankfully improved across the country, we need to take action to ensure that rates continue to go down, and that we do not have to step back from any of the re-opening measures being announced by states across the country. Even as vaccination rates rise, students under the age of 12 are still waiting for approval of vaccines. To stay informed and to keep in-person learning open for as many students as possible, states and districts are making sure that regular testing is a part of their comprehensive public health plans for the fall.

We were also just selected by the state of Arizona to provide free pooled testing for any district, charter, or private school in the state that opts into the program. Support for this program and others across the country is entirely drawn from the federal American Rescue Plan funds through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allocated $10 billion to states and territories for school testing. Arizona received approximately $219 million to “detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread” in schools, and has allocated $113.9 million for this comprehensive testing program.

Likewise, today we also announced our support for the school testing program in New Hampshire, which you can read about here.

Alongside schools in Arizona and New Hampshire, we’re part of the state-wide programs in Massachusetts, Maine, and Baltimore City and Montgomery County in Maryland. We’re also supporting pooled testing in city districts like Milwaukee, and we’re continuing to work with state and school leaders to understand their options for the fall and to make sure they have testing plans in place.

In the coming weeks, we will reach out to – and hear from – many more states and communities across the country as they set up their fall plans. With case counts going down and many regions opening up, we are optimistic for the end of the pandemic. But there’s still a lot of work left to do.

We started Concentric because everybody’s health is connected, and because the biological century needs to also be the century of biosecurity. It’s taken the incredible teamwork of citizens, scientists, medical professionals, public health experts, and countless workers and community members to get us this far. We’re incredibly grateful to all of them for being our partners and for their efforts, and we’re working everyday towards a world in which their sacrifices might not be necessary. We’re excited to get back to full density in our foundries, where we conduct our everyday business of making biology easier to engineer, and to helping families across the country get back to the everyday business of learning and working.

Expanding Ginkgo’s Platform for Biosecurity and Pandemic Responsiveness

We’re thrilled to announce that Ginkgo Bioworks was recently approved for a loan of up to $1.1B from the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to expand our biosecurity and pandemic response platform at Ginkgo. Biotechnological platforms like Ginkgo’s can be repurposed in a biological emergency, and we have been honored to be able to contribute our technology to efforts combating the pandemic.

Back in March, we opened our platform up to do $25M of free work with companies and researchers working on the response to COVID-19. Many great partnerships came out of that initiative, including our work with Moderna to help optimize their vaccine manufacturing process, and our joint efforts with Totient to hunt for virus-neutralizing antibodies for COVID-19. We synthesized expression vectors for key viral proteins to support academic researchers and deposited them in Addgene for free distribution and used our NGS platform to do whole genome sequencing to support the Utah Department of Health in using genomics to support epidemiology.

We worked with the NIH RADx program on developing new methods for testing, invested to expand Access Bio’s New Jersey-based antigen test manufacturing facility to support more widespread rapid testing, and launched our end-to-end testing service, Concentric by Ginkgo, to do testing in non-traditional settings like schools and workplaces. We worked with the non-profit Immune Observatory to provide free base-line testing to staff at MA K-12 schools this fall. Our goal is to make testing costs low enough for weekly testing of people without symptoms, using methods like pooled testing in settings such as K-12 classrooms. Though vaccines are thankfully on the horizon, testing remains a vital tool for understanding and managing the spread of COVID-19.

Even as we pour our efforts into emerging from this crisis, we need to consider how the infrastructure and tools we are building now can grow to prevent future pandemics and keep us healthy and safe in the long-term. With support from the DFC, we will expand our platform to be part of a lasting biosecurity capability for the US. Simply put, your email inbox shouldn’t have more virus protection than you do.

Webinar: University Leaders on Testing

As universities slowly begin to reopen, institutions face difficult decisions about when and how to bring students back to campus. But even in this uncharted territory, university leaders are coming up with clever solutions to protect students, staff, and the surrounding community. In partnership with the leading news outlet for colleges and universities, The Chronicle of Higher Education, we recently had the opportunity to hear from several senior administrators at universities from across the country about the COVID-19 strategies that have allowed students to return to in-person learning. This webinar featured leaders from Vassar College, Fayetteville State University, Kenyon College, University of Vermont, and University of South Carolina. Read on for the highlights and key lessons from the conversation, or watch the replay here.

Test promptly and frequently

Throughout the conversation, it was clear from all the panelists that providing COVID-19 testing services to students, faculty, and staff is key to successfully reopening and bringing students back on campus. Offering prompt testing to everyone who needs it is a critical part of ensuring that campuses can not only reopen, but stay open. These university leaders have deployed a mix of PCR-based testing and rapid antigen testing on their campuses, allowing them to catch individual cases – and support positive cases with quarantine and recovery measures – before they turn into full-blown outbreaks that would force the campus to close again.

While testing at a regular cadence is the core of most reopening strategies, that doesn’t mean that a single plan works for every community. By tailoring their approach to the unique needs of their own communities, university leaders are able to find what works best for them. Vassar College’s President Elizabeth Bradley recommended a paper titled, “Reopening Colleges During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic—One Size Does Not Fit All” to help determine the best path forward for your institution based on its individual characteristics, such as size and geographical location. With its robust testing program, Fayetteville State University was able to bring its case count down significantly, according to the school’s Director of Student Health, Vinette Gordon.

Interestingly, some campuses like Kenyon College and University of South Carolina have also leveraged wastewater testing as another form of assurance in their COVID-19 strategy. Testing wastewater for the SARS-CoV-2 virus provides valuable information on the health of the campus community and can help catch cases early on. For example, Kenyon College President, Sean Decatur says they noticed an elevated reading in their wastewater testing results—an early warning sign of a potential outbreak. They were able to step up testing efforts in response, allowing them to catch a new positive case that they might have otherwise missed without that early warning.

Partner and pool to lower the cost

Making testing accessible for every member of the campus community is a top concern for universities across the country. But scaling up testing to cover an entire community is no easy task. Many campuses are struggling with a lack of funding and resources to begin testing at the scale required to reopen and stay open.

The panelists discussed several ways they’ve been able to bring testing to their campuses despite budget constraints. Largely, partnerships with local health departments, neighboring universities, and state and federal bodies have been critical in securing the tests and financing required for large-scale, on-campus testing. The panelists were excited about the prospect of low-cost, rapid antigen tests becoming more widely available and their potential to bring down overhead as they look to the spring semester.

Another promising strategy that aims to bring down the cost of testing is pooling. Pooling allows you to collect samples from several people in a community and screen them with a single test—maximizing that test’s reach. By testing multiple people at once, you can save on the time and cost of running multiple, individual tests. And if a pooled test comes back positive, you know to send that specific cohort back for individual testing. Pooling has the potential to dramatically reduce the resources spent on testing and get results to more people, faster.

“Students must be partners in a school’s COVID-19 response plan in order for it to be effective.”

Collaborate with students and the community

Another theme that emerged throughout the discussion was the importance of collaboration on and off campus. The ultimate takeaway? Students must be partners in a school’s COVID-19 response plan in order for it to be effective.

University of South Carolina’s Executive Director of Student Health Services and the Healthy Carolina Wellness Program, Debbie Beck, recommended getting the student body government involved to make sure their voices are heard in developing the plan from day one. Vassar College professionally trained students from its EMS and paramedic departments to help with contact tracing. They also shared that, of course, you can never underestimate the power of swag with a college community. What these academic leaders have seen is that students want to be on campus and are willing to comply with testing and other safety measures, like distancing and masking, to return to their everyday lives – activating the student body plays an invaluable role in ensuring participation.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of engaging their stakeholders: adjacent communities, businesses, families, and individuals who regularly visit or otherwise interact with their campus. Communicating and working with the local community to ensure their concerns are heard and met is critical. In an effort to better collaborate with their local community in Burlington, University of Vermont President, Suresh V. Garimella says they developed a website where community members could voice their concerns. In an effort to help boost the local economy, Vassar College came up with creative ways for businesses to sell food and beverages on campus in a way that safeguards the health of both students and the broader community.

These five universities have been outstanding examples of how to effectively craft and implement on-campus COVID-19 testing programs, and for testing in the U.S. more broadly. Our testing service, Concentric by Ginkgo, is committed to providing a range of testing options designed to fit each community’s unique needs. If you’re interested in bringing PCR or antigen testing to your campus, contact us today at