Frequently Asked Questions

What is a “Not Detected” Result?

A result of “SARS-CoV-2 Not Detected” means that the test did not detect any viral presence in your sample. While a “Not Detected” result does not preclude the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 infection, in most cases a “Not Detected” result does in fact correspond to a negative COVID-19 status, and “Not Detected” is the result which is colloquially referred to as a “negative test result” for the purposes of university policy, travel guidelines, and other policies requiring evidence of a negative PCR result.

What is an “Inconclusive” result?

Test results will be returned as inconclusive if only one of the three target sequences was detected after repeat testing. These samples cannot be confidently determined to be either positive or negative, and a new sample will be required to return a definitive result.

What is an “Invalid” result?

Test results are returned as invalid if the internal quality control failed. A new sample will be required to return a positive or negative result.

What is a “Positive” result?

A positive result indicates that SARS-CoV-2 viral presence was detected in the sample. Please follow all CDC and Northeastern guidelines for isolation and testing following a positive test result, as applicable.

Test Offerings

The Life Sciences Testing Center is CAP-accredited and CLIA-certified to perform high-complexity molecular testing. The LSTC offers three PCR testing options – SARS-CoV-2 (observed collection), SARS-CoV-2 (at-home collection kit), and multiplex testing for Influenza A and B and SARS-CoV-2.

About the COVID Test

Considered the gold standard for testing, real time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) testing amplifies DNA strands in order to identify the genome responsible for COVID-19 within a few days of infection, making the test far more sensitive and reliable than antigen testing for COVID-19. Sample collection takes place at designated collection sites, or at-home with our self-collection kit. The samples are then transported to the LSTC for testing and analysis, and results are delivered to patients virtually within 12-48 hours.

How does the testing process work?

Nasal swabs are collected at a designated testing site or at home. Unlike the notorious “brain ticklers,” these tests are a simple lower nasal swab, painless and easy to self-administer. After the samples are collected, they are couriered to the Life Sciences Testing Center at the Burlington campus where they are received and verified before being prepared for testing and analysis. The samples are then run through an extraction process which isolates the purified nucleic acids needed for the PCR testing of the samples. Once the purified nucleic acids have been extracted, the samples can be processed by the PCR machines. First, the reverse transcriptase cycle is run, which builds a nucleotide strand complementary to the single-stranded viral RNA. Then, the PCR thermocycler alternates high heat cycles to denature (“unzip”) the DNA strands, cooling cycles which allow the strands to bind to the primers and probes, and mid-temperature cycles which amplify (extend) the targeted genetic sequences of any viral RNA present in the samples. This process is repeated for multiple cycles, allowing the RNA to be amplified exponentially. As the targeted genetic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 multiply, probes in the mixture fluoresce, signaling the presence of virus in the sample.

How are results reported?

Following PCR testing, the raw data are uploaded into an interpretive software program designed to determine whether samples are COVID positive, negative, inconclusive, or invalid. A General Supervisor then reviews the interpretive software output for approval of results. Once approved, results are reported directly to the patient and provider via the patient results portal, and are reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in accordance with COVID-19 mitigation guidelines. The full test process takes 12-48 hours, delivering quick and reliable test results to patients.

I have a concern about the laboratory I’d like to share. Who can I contact?

Any feedback about the laboratory’s operation, test results, or communications can be directed to our Feedback Form, emailed directly to [email protected], or communicated via phone at (617) 373-7152. We take your concerns seriously, and all complaints will be addressed promptly within 1-2 business days.