College reports 14 positive COVID-19 tests in week of testing


Lizzie Heintz

Outside of the Emerson College Testing Center.

By Charlie McKenna and Camilo Fonseca

Despite the vaccine mandate for community members, Emerson has reported 14 positive COVID-19 tests in just over a week since the start of fall semester testing, according to the college’s dashboard. 

The string of positives come as individuals return to the Boston campus from across the world, and in the midst of a resurgence in the pandemic brought on by the Delta variant. The positives include two reported on Wednesday and four on Tuesday; also on Wednesday, three community members were reported to be in on-campus isolation and one was in on-campus quarantine. 

Because Emerson has required students, staff, and faculty to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the positive tests racked up thus far are most likely “breakthrough” cases—which have become more common due to the variant.

“We were anticipating having positives,” said Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead.” “Some folks would look at that number and say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a lot,’ and certainly, we’d love zero. But it’s still within our planning and anticipation for the semester, so [the college has] no worries at this time.”

Since the start of the fall testing cycle on Aug. 23, Tufts Medical Center has processed 5,584 tests, with a positivity rate of 0.25 percent. After the first full week of testing last fall, when the pandemic in Massachusetts hit its lowest point before the availability of vaccines—the positivity rate sat at 0.12 percent. 

Emerson will mandate masking in all on-campus spaces until “at least” Sept. 17, when the college plans to shift to a “mask-optional” policy. All community members continue to undergo weekly testing at Tufts Medical Center.

It remains to be seen whether the spread of the Delta variant will spur any policy change from the college. However, Muurisepp said that college officials have not yet determined what changes will go into effect on Sept. 17.

“In my mind, that’s still a long way aways,” he said. “A lot can happen between now and then. Between this week and next week, we’ll start really assessing that—working with Tufts and the city to see what changes we’ll have to make.” 

In the broader city of Boston, Acting Mayor Kim Janey reimposed an indoor mask mandate on Friday. Cases in Massachusetts have skyrocketed over the past several weeks and are reaching over 1,000 new cases a day, after a period earlier in the summer where daily case numbers regularly fell below 100. 

Over the seven-day period between Aug. 26 and Sep. 1, the state reported 10,422 new cases, or an average of 1,488 cases each day. In the same period, the death toll rose by 49. Cases reached an individual day high of 1,793 on Aug. 27, after a low of 1,400 on Aug. 26; furthermore, the 4,081 cases reported on Aug. 30 reflect data collected from Aug. 27-29, as the Department of Public Health does not report new numbers over weekends. 

The state reports two COVID-19 positivity rates—one with higher education testing and one without. On Wednesday, the seven-day test positivity rate including higher education testing sat at 2.6 percent. The rate that excludes higher education sat at 3.3 percent when last updated on Aug. 25.

The state also reported 2,941 new hospitalizations over the same period, or an average of 420 a day.

Vaccinations have also slowed considerably in Massachusetts, with just over 65 percent of the population fully inoculated against COVID-19—though the state did reach its goal of fully vaccinating 4.1 million residents on June 22. Over the past week, the Department of Public Health reported 62,474 new vaccinations, bringing the state’s total to 9,208,972 residents who have received shots.