College to mandate weekly testing for faculty, staff in spring


Zhihao Wu

Emerson’s testing center at a Tufts Medical Center bookstore on the corner of Kneeland St. and Harrison St.

By Charlie McKenna, Dana Gerber and Karli Wallace

Emerson will mandate weekly testing for faculty and staff working on campus during the spring semester after allowing those working on campus this fall the choice to opt into the college’s testing program. 

The decision, announced via an email from Senior Associate Vice President of Human Resources Shari Stier sent to faculty and staff Thursday, comes amid rising COVID-19 case numbers in Massachusetts. The state recorded 1,243 new cases Thursday, the sixth day in a row in which cases have topped 1,000 statewide.

“With the current spike in COVID cases across the country, and continuing predictions of a worsening in the winter, we at Emerson are going to continue to do everything possible to keep our campus safe and reduce the likelihood of transmission on campus,” Stier wrote. “One of the changes for Spring is that staff and faculty working on campus will be required (rather than opting-in) to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing.”

Stier told The Beacon earlier this month that Emerson chose not to mandate weekly testing based on guidance from the three epidemiologists the college hired to consult on the fall reopening plan. 

“[The epidemiologists] gave us guidance in terms of frequency of testing and who should be tested,” she said. “The decision was not made out of convenience… it was made out of what is the safest way possible to proceed.”

Emerson is one of the only local colleges not to require regular testing for staff and faculty members frequenting campus this semester. College officials have repeatedly declined to provide The Beacon with the number of staff and faculty currently being tested. 

Most other Boston-area colleges have a tiered system of testing, wherein the staff and faculty who are required to be tested depends on how often they are on campus, whether or not they take public transportation, how much contact they have with students, and other factors related to the likelihood of transmission.

At Suffolk University and Simmons University, the only employees who can choose whether or not they are tested are those who work in administrative or academic support departments, like finance or human resources. Both schools also partner with the Broad Institute, which provides and processes tests from dozens of area colleges, including Emerson.

Northeastern University, Harvard University, and Boston University require all staff, faculty, and students on campus to be tested at varying levels of frequency, depending on how often they are on campus. 

Dashboards at Northeastern, BU, Suffolk, and Harvard all include the number of faculty and staff quarantined at home, as well as a breakdown of the positive tests between faculty, staff, and students. Emerson’s dashboard includes none of those metrics.

The announcement is one of few glimpses into what the spring semester may look like. Information has come in bits and pieces via emails from college officials.

College officials could not immediately be reached for comment.