Emerson breaks 400 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, positivity rate at 2.35 percent

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

COVID testing site locating at 116 Harrison Avenue.

By Adri Pray, News Editor

Emerson has seen 404 positive COVID-19 tests since the spring testing cycle began on Jan. 3, breaking a threshold not seen through the entire pandemic.

The college reported nine positive COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, of the 1,171 tests administered, setting the daily positivity rate at 0.77 percent, the second consecutive day within the week the positivity rate has been below 1 percent. 

The spring semester positivity rate fell to 2.35 percent, weeks after reaching a high of 5.31 percent the week of Jan. 9. Wednesday’s report also marks the first single-digit daily positive reported by the college since the onset of the spring semester. 

The dashboard update also reported that 14 community members were in on-campus isolation. Zero were reported to be in on-campus quarantine. 

Those in the quarantine may have been exposed to COVID-19 but aren’t experiencing symptoms. Those in isolation are symptomatic, have produced a positive test, or are “reasonably known to be infected,” according to the college. Off-campus students are not counted in the quarantine and isolation numbers.

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Associate Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead,” said that despite the new threshold, the decline in the college’s overall positivity rate has been encouraging.

“The daily numbers are lowering,” he said in an interview with The Beacon. “I don’t think we want to get too ahead of ourselves saying we’re all clear, but yes, numbers are tracking in the right direction as they are in the region.” 

“We still have plenty of positives,” he continued. “We’re certainly below 15 at least, some days below a dozen, so that is a good thing.”

Muurisepp also addressed the current COVID-19 guidelines in place for all Emerson students, faculty, and staff. Students will be expected to continue to test twice a week, he said, but college officials hope to return to a pooled testing method soon.

“Hopefully, we’ll go back to one big testing [pool] for students,” he said. “We’re moving in that direction for other populations [of community members], but for students we’re going to remain in two times a week and hopefully that will start easing back as well.”

The college switched to a pooled testing model during the fall 2021 semester with the intention of “streamlining the testing process.” Muurisepp pushed back against theories, advanced in The Beacon’s editorial pages, that the pooled testing method contributed to the surge in cases last fall.

“I know there’s a lot of information out there saying our switch to pooled caused the surge,” Muurisepp said. “I would disagree with that as well, that is not accurate. I don’t believe that’s an accurate statement [The Beacon] made. I would say that pooled testing served our purpose where it was needed.”

Emerson’s COVID-19 protocols, Muurisepp said, are still closely following guidance from the state, city, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are guidelines from the federal and local agencies on testing,” he said. “Our testing strategy has always been built in consultation with Tufts Medical Center and the medical team.”

He also stated that the college’s goal is to continue in-person instruction, but if adjustments are necessary, the college will make those adjustments on a case-by-case basis.

Massachusetts’ daily case numbers have also fallen from the highs of late December, though the state reported 7,918 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. The death toll rose by 80.

The state also reported 2,617 hospitalizations, with 1,324 of these hospitalizations occurring in those considered fully vaccinated.

The state of Massachusetts tracks two kinds of COVID-19 positivity rates—one including higher education testing and one without. The seven-day positive rate without higher education hasn’t been updated since Jan. 19 and sits at 17.87 percent. Including higher education, the rate on Wednesday sat at 10.37 percent.

Massachusetts reported 27,180 new vaccinations—including boosters—from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 13,522,235 doses. Wednesday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,238,941 Mass. residents—according to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 76 percent of the state’s population—are fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Emerson shifted from a manual data reporting process to an automatic one in the fall of 2020. The decision followed a Beacon investigation that revealed a string of inaccuracies in the data reported by the college. 

The college’s dashboard is updated daily Monday through Friday. When it was first launched, the college opted for weekly updates before eventually shifting to twice weekly and then daily updates. Tabs for hospitalizations and the number of “invalid” results received by community members have since been removed from the dashboard after testing began in August. Invalid results are typically a result of user error and require re-testing. 

The dashboard is not updated on weekends because Emerson’s testing site at Tufts Medical Center is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.