COVID-19 positives continue to surge despite administrator prediction of slowdown


Hongyu Liu

Students walking along Boylston Street.

By Charlie McKenna

Despite administrator predictions of a dip in positive COVID-19 tests amongst community members, positives continue to roll in at a significantly higher rate than they did in the fall. 

Emerson reported seven new positive COVID-19 tests Wednesday, bringing the college’s spring semester total to 73 after just five and a half weeks of testing. The 73 positives mark a significant increase from fall semester totals, as just 60 positive tests were reported across all four months of fall semester testing. The seven positives reported Wednesday would have constituted the third-highest total in a single week of fall testing. 

Administrators warned on Feb. 6 they were seeing evidence of the virus spreading amongst community members—meaning the positives were not just picked up in the city but were spread amongst community members within the college. 

Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp said following the Feb. 6 email, there has not been any evidence of community spread at Emerson. 

“Since that message, we have not seen confirmed or potential cases of community spread,” he said.

Muurisepp attributed the change to community members more closely adhering to safety protocols, like mask-wearing and social distancing. 

“Hopefully it’s because people have been following the guidelines and the requests of not gathering, keeping distance, mask usage, all of that,” he said.

The seven positives reported Wednesday were all isolated, he said. 

“What we’re seeing is, if we have one, two, or three, or seven positives a day… those do seem to be isolated [and] independent,” Muurisepp said. “That’s a good thing because you’re just seeing independent cases, you’re not seeing transmission of cases.”

On Feb. 4, Muurisepp said the college anticipated the number of positives reported would tail off as the semester went along. That trend has yet to materialize, as the college has reported double-digit positives in each full week of testing, aside from the first, this spring. 

“In some ways it has leveled, we’re still seeing every day some positives,” he said. “But on average, we’re seeing about two to three, maybe, a day. It’s better than seeing five or six a day.”

At this point in the fall semester, Emerson had reported just 12 positive tests. Muurisepp said the college is not comparing fall and spring results due to the “new environment” of the pandemic. The fall semester positivity rate was .08 percent; the spring’s is .33 percent. 

He said the increase is due to “more virus” present in the city and the state.

“It’s more prevalent,” he said. “We are now two weeks away from our baseline testing and this is obviously virus that’s in the city. It’s because there is more virus out there and it is being transmitted.”

As positive tests at Emerson continue to tick up, cases in the city and state have steadily trended down. On Tuesday, Massachusetts reported the lowest number of new cases in a single day since Nov. 3. The statewide positivity rate has also hit lows last seen in early November. 

In the fall, when 16 community members tested positive in one week, the college moved quickly to shut down all non-academic in-person activities. Now, with positives regularly topping double digits, no new safety restrictions are on the horizon, Muurisepp said. 

“There’s not much more we can do besides going back into what we started the semester with, sort of that stay-in-room order both on- and off-campus,” he said. “Outside of that, I don’t see how else we would be able to put more restrictions in place.”

Instead, administrators continue to remain firm in their belief that mask-wearing, regular testing, and social distancing are the best ways to maintain what they have called “the Emerson bubble.”