Dozens of Biogen employees to be tested for COVID-19 after 4 confirmed cases, 5 presumptive within the company

The Boston Public Health Commission said on Friday dozens of Biogen employees will undergo testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, after four employees tested positive for it.

WESTON — The Boston Public Health Commission said on Friday dozens of Biogen employees will undergo testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Five new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 affecting Biogen employees were announced Friday, according to a release by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The cases include two women and one man from Suffolk County, all in their 40s; and two people form Norfolk County, one woman in her 30s and one man in his 40s. All five people are at their homes.

Biogen said on Thursday and Friday that four employees tested positive for the virus, but they don’t live in Massachusetts. Two employees are from Europe, one is a man from Tennessee and the fourth announced Friday is a man from Indiana.

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The Tennessee man was on a nonstop, round-trip flight from Boston to Nashville, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday night.

“At the present time, these individuals are doing well, improving and under the care of their healthcare providers," the company told Boston 25 News.

A two-day “management meeting” was held last week at the Long Wharf Marriott. Approximately 175 employees who attended have been advised to stay home whether they had symptoms or not.

Arrangements are being made to have employees tested for coronavirus on an appointment-only basis. Brigham and Women’s Hospital will help in the testing process and say they’ve activated their central ambulatory screening and testing plan. Patients will be tested outside of the hospital in the ambulance bay.

Patients who undergo testing will be sent back home while they wait for results.

“We do not anticipate an influx of inpatients or any impact to hospital operations or normal patient activity,” a spokesperson for the hospital told Boston 25 News.

“Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals are supporting state and local public health efforts to test symptomatic individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 at a private company event in late February. The hospitals will be mounting a specimen collection clinic for these specific employees in a proactive effort to alleviate any potential burden on emergency departments and primary care providers. The hospitals will manage specimen collection and will send the specimens to the State Public Health Laboratory for testing. The Department of Public Health will continue to provide regular updates.”
Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission

Boston 25 reached out to the Long Wharf Marriott see if it is taking any additional precautions, but had not heard back as of 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

“We’ve been talking to city’s Department of Public Health and Biogen about (that) particular situation and obviously work through the details over the next day or two,” Gov. Baker said.

"We recognize that this is a difficult situation for our colleagues and their loved ones. We are actively working with all relevant departments of public health and hospitals to prioritize the well-being of the people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Biogen spokesperson
• We have informed employees who attended the management meeting and are symptomatic that, if they haven’t already, they will be contacted by the public health authorities to be tested and they must quarantine themselves. Additionally, these employees are being asked to isolate from the people they live with (e.g. family members, loved ones or roommates) until further notice, and these close contacts must also be quarantined until further notice.
Biogen spokesperson
• For meeting attendees who are not showing symptoms, individuals are being asked to stay in quarantine until further notice, and the people they live with should avoid social interaction and work from home.
Biogen spokesperson
• All other office-based Biogen employees and contractors in Massachusetts, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina and Baar, Switzerland are being asked to work from home until further notice.
Biogen spokesperson
Our thoughts are with our colleagues and those who are impacted."
Biogen spokesperson

Biogen’s offices are in Cambridge, and also in Weston at 133 Boston Post Road.

Gov. Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh say they’ve been consumed by conversations surrounding coronavirus and it is constantly evolving.

“In the last 72 hours we’ve spent most of our day talking about the coronavirus and the impact on our city and state, but also the potential impacts,” Walsh said.

Biogen’s statement continued:

“Protecting our employees and our communities is our priority. Biogen has been in regular contact with the relevant public health officials since the time the first cases of illness were reported. In an abundance of caution, all meeting attendees, with or without flu-like symptoms, have been directed to work from home for two weeks. We are regularly communicating with all employees and directed all employees who are not feeling well to stay home and contact their healthcare provider as necessary.”

The company said it is “taking precautionary measures to do our part in mitigating the spread of illness – including restricting travel through the end of March. We continue to closely monitor the situation.”

News of the three Biogen cases came shortly before Massachusetts state health officials announced the second presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in the state.

The woman is in her 60s and lives in Middlesex County, the state Department of Public Health said in a statement.

“Her recent European travel included northern Italy. She was symptomatic, did not require hospitalization, and is recovering at home,” the DPH said.

Later Thursday evening, South Shore Health announced that four of its healthcare employees were ordered to stay home after a South Shore Medical Center patient tested presumptive positive for coronavirus.

State public health officials stress that the risk of coronavirus to the public remains low in Massachusetts.

Still, some school districts are closing doors to disinfect classrooms and school buildings.

Plymouth announced all schools in the town will be closed on Friday, after a 17-year-old Plymouth North High School student was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms.