January 13, 2022. Chris Burt from University Business, a college administrators website, interviews Dr. Soumi Eachempati about contact tracing to testing and vaccine verification. He shares his insights on how institutions are getting more timely results through the CLEARED4 cloud-based system. The City University of New York serves 300,000 students and 16,700 full-time and adjunct professors across more than 20 campuses, quite a large population to track and keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like all public institutions in the state, CUNY has a vaccine mandate, booster requirement and demands indoor masking. It also has regular testing for the unvaccinated and random testing for those who are vaccinated as a precaution because of breakthrough cases.
The university is not unlike a lot of others that post-test results, and it also isn’t much different in that it features platforms for students to log in and see their own COVID status. But one of the unique services CUNY, 50 other colleges and a few K-12 schools employ is a platform called CLEARED4, co-developed by Dr. Soumi Eachempati, a former professor of surgery and public health at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Eachempati’s creation allows institutions a customizable way to get COVID test results to students very quickly while giving those that are green-lighted access to various campus points and activities. And because it is URL-based and not simply a mobile app—although an app is one of the features—institutions can get a dashboard of those activities. That is key as they are able to pinpoint cases and isolate clusters, remaining open instead of closing the institutions or going remote.
“We effectively do contact-tracing through our platform by the associations that they put in,” Eachempati says. “If there’s a class of 100 econ kids, they can put those all together in a group [through a tag in CLEARED4], and if a certain amount of the test positive you can trigger the rest to get a test. So instead of shutting down a whole school or dorm and sending kids back home, you can get a more granular understanding of where the positives are and maybe shut down the floor of a dorm.”
Two school districts on Long Island—Manhasset and Oyster Bay—have used them successfully by defining various groups, for example, those that take certain buses or those that are in different grade levels. Colleges can do the same for their populations.
“I recommend random testing in the canary type fashion, so you test a certain amount of kids every month in a different classroom or in a different dorm that has no association,” he says. “You don’t test the same people every time, like A to F in the alphabet. The key is to test random people that are unlinked. That way you can see if you have a true problem or not. Once you do that, you broaden the search. If they’re negative, you don’t need to shut down.”
A solution for colleges
For more than 20 years and in addition to his work as a professor, Eachempati was a clinical trauma surgeon and director of an intensive care unit at Weill Cornell Hospital in New York City. He decided to take a spin in the business world because “major decisions were made regarding patients and healthcare by people who did not have a fundamental understanding of what healthcare was doing.” He eventually launched a digital platform based on triage. But when COVID hit, everything changed. He was called back into the ICU during the peak moment in 2020 when coronavirus was surging. During that time, he and a colleague could see that the pandemic would not be short-term. So the idea of bringing a product that got people back into the workforce came to life.
They launched it, expanded to businesses and then to schools before partnering with Applied DNA to expand their network. That’s when LIM College and CUNY jumped on board. They realized they not only could delineate test integration through the platforms but also vaccine verification while setting their own parameters. CREATED4 now supports 50,000 tests per week, with 70% being dedicated to higher education. “Colleges are testing much more than businesses, which is really interesting to me,” Eachempati says. “Even though they would have less morbidity based on their age and health, it’s because people probably perceive them as more risk-laden.”
As many colleges reopen in 2022—CUNY starts on Jan. 28 with myriad protocols in place— Eachempati as a businessman doesn’t try to sway decisions being made one way or another. But as a public health leader, he has his opinions.
“If I were the Chief Medical Officer for the university, and the Dean came to me and said, ‘How do I keep these kids in school?’ I’d say omicron is a problem,” he says. “You should be having some rules. You can decide what those are, whether it’s masking or not. But you have to have a large proportion of kids doubly vaccinated, probably not necessarily boosted at that age yet. You need to have some understanding of space. And when you have a positive, you have to be able to minimize the damage.
“I would set up mass vaccinations at the entry point for registration of the colleges. I would do serial testing for the first couple of weeks. I would try to do a very intense education program about understanding, you don’t need to mask everywhere but there are certain places you do. I would also reinforce to students that you are not doing this for you. You are doing this to stay in school. You do this for your classmates and their families. And you’re also doing it for yourself because you’ll have a better experience. It is only going to hurt you when the school gets shut down and you have to go home to your parents’ basements again. Nobody wants that for another year.”