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Home / Science / How MIT built its own COVID-19 test trailer that could test up to 1,500 people a day

How MIT built its own COVID-19 test trailer that could test up to 1,500 people a day

MIT COVID test trailer 19

A team of engineers, architects, medical staff, and facility experts have built a 60-foot vehicle that currently operates as a primary test site for members who don’t have any. symptom of the MIT community, who need to go back to school. “It’s really a prime example of MIT – innovation from scratch,” said Brian Schuetz, chief of staff at MIT Medical. In this photo, a person visits the MIT Medical trailer. Credit: Melanie Gonick, MIT

Designed and assembled by experts from all over the Institute, this facility can allow testing of up to 1,500 people per day.

In mid-March, in response to an outbreaking Covid-19 pandemic, WITH Health quickly set up test tents where essential staff and others who stayed on campus could be safely screened for the new coronavirus. In the tent, nurses and doctors use a cotton swab while wearing full personal protective equipment, or PPE.

It is clear that for safe daily check-ups, health workers need to regularly supplement their PPE – a supply that is in short supply and desperate. It is also possible that, when injecting all of those PPE at the end of an 8-hour shift, a nurse could be at risk of inhaling any infectious particles that could latch onto gown, surgical mask and sheet. masked.

“One of the biggest challenges in the Covid test is [that] You put the person performing the test at negligible risk, said Brian Schuetz, chief of staff at MIT Medical.

Weather conditions were also challenging, as a showers in late March threatened to flip the tents. Looking at the hot summer months, Schuetz and his medical team know that major adjustments will need to be made to improve safety and comfort for both patients and staff.

“We made the decision soon that we had to think differently about how we do things,” Schuetz said.

For more than two months, he and experts from across the campus worked tirelessly to design and build MIT’s newest test facility – a 60-foot vehicle that is now operating as a site. Primary test scores for asymptomatic members of the MIT community who need to return to school.

Inside, the refurbished trailer can accommodate a check-in station and six test compartments. Floor-to-ceiling plastic partitions run the length of the trailer, keeping paramedics on one side and those checking in on the other. In each test compartment, the tester on one side of the baffle can attach his arm to a large rubber glove that extends to the other side, so that the tester can perform nose picking without either side. physical contact.

The trailer also features an upgraded HVAC system, which is calibrated so that the air on either side of the baffle doesn’t mix. Two separate spaces in the trailer make it possible for paramedics to safely check in people wearing a simple surgical mask, instead of a full PPE.

“The result is: The people behind that plastic are very safe,” said Schuetz. “If we can make our team comfortable and the patient is at ease, we can make everyone safer.”

The trailer commenced operations in early July, with the capacity to test run up to 1,500 people per day. The MIT Information and Technology Systems team connected the trailer to the MIT Covid Pass system, allowing an MIT member to access campus facilities if they test negative for coronavirus. . The trailer is designated as a test site for asymptomatic members with access to the Covid Pass app.

The whole experience took about two minutes. Nasal swabs were analyzed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and results were entered into the Covid Pass system; Those who have been tested can check their results through the app.

“One of the biggest challenges in this whole effort was figuring out how to put all these different pieces together, and I think we created a collaborative solution,” Schuetz said. the campus is safe. “It’s really the best example of MIT – innovation from scratch.”

A race against time

That start-up effort was quickly successful, when Schuetz first approached Elazer Edelman, director of the Institute of Medical Science and Engineering, to search for additional PPE sources for the medical tents originally used. .

“And Elazer said,” Wait a second – MIT is the best place in the world to find people who can make exactly what we want, “said Martin Culpepper, professor of mechanical engineering and member of the management team. of MIT on Production Opportunities for Covid -19.

So the medical team re-focused their vision to examine the MIT community, not in tents with paramedics in full PPE, but in a well-ventilated, weather-protected space. .

Edelman hooked up with Culpepper, who contacted on-campus seminars looking for raw materials and expertise. Meanwhile, Schuetz worked with the Department of Facilities to buy two trailers.

“We always order trailers for construction projects and that’s nothing out of the norm, except we’re in the midst of a pandemic right now and don’t have a lot of trailers out there,” Paul Murphy, Project Specialist on the Campus Construction team. “But people got up and knew how important this was, and within four days we had two trailers, which can normally take months with this kind of assembly.”

Culpepper met Tasker Smith, the engineering instructor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and Jennifer O’Brien, the engineering instructor at the Faculty of Architecture, together they built a test space designed for the large trailer. more, 60 feet long, based on early conversations with medical staff.

“The early stages are all about napkin sketches, cardboard, duct tape, and bubblegum – anything that’s needed to help you get around this problem quickly,” says Smith.

O’Brien built a rough model of a test chamber and invited several nurses and doctors to test it.

O’Brien recalls: “Having experience building custom-made furniture, I think there may be needs they will find that they have, that they won’t think of. “I realized, for example, that based on the tester’s shoulder height and width ranges, that existing designs found online at the time might not be comfortable for everyone.” .

So she made a key adjustment to the final design, building the glove into a sub-panel in the window of each compartment that can be adjusted up and down to match the height of the person. experiment. The team then worked with Culpepper to gather materials for the actual construction.

O’Brien said: “At the time, the whole world realized they needed a source of transparent plastic to shield everyone from interacting with each other, like cashiers and students, so there was a good deal. great scramble. “We’re racing against time, and we have to get this thing going as quickly as possible, to manage the larger number of MITs as soon as they start back to school.”

While she and Smith started building the trailer’s physical layout with the help of the on-campus construction teams, Culpepper worked with the Facilities engineers to optimize the HVAC’s system. trailer.

“We did all the calculations of the amount of air that had to be overturned at a given point in time, with numbers of individuals that would take up both sides of the trailer,” Murphy said.

The team designed a positive-pressure HVAC system that can pump 700 cubic feet / min of outdoor air through one side of the trailer’s plastic baffle, in a way that keeps one side at positive pressure and the other at negative pressure – a balance that prevents air on the sides from mixing. A large, custom-built exhaust blows air about 12 feet above the trailer.

So far, about 4,000 people have been tested in the trailer. The ultimate goal is to have all members of the community working and living on campus tested up to twice a week, with the trailer being a key component of that strategy. Schuetz notes, however, that the development of test technology, medical guidelines and Covid-19’s popularity in the broader Massachusetts community will likely lead to changes to testing strategies in months to come.

Looking to a hopeful future, Schuetz suggests the trailer could be configured for other purposes, such as testing people for antibodies or even, using vaccines.

O’Brien, who along with Smith, added: “Now it’s not over yet, is putting together a package of shareable specs for anyone interested in building similar facilities. . “It continues to be a multipurpose design and we are still here on campus if needed, to update it.”

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