Emerson delays start of in-person classes, residence hall move-in schedule, citing COVID surge


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Cameron Manning helping students move into Little Building at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester

By Charlie McKenna

Emerson will hold the first ten days of spring semester classes online and delay move-in to on-campus residence halls by a week, President M. Lee Pelton announced in an email Wednesday afternoon, 20 days before classes were set to begin. Coronavirus cases in Massachusetts and across the U.S. continue to hit record highs as cold weather and holiday gatherings drive a dramatic spike in virus spread.  

Courses will still begin as scheduled on Jan. 19, continuing entirely online through Jan. 29. In-person flex courses will begin on Feb. 1 after an extended, required quarantine period for on-campus students upon arrival to the residence halls. 

The decision to delay the start of in-person classes was based on guidance from state officials and Tufts Medical Center officials, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp told The Beacon.  

“[The college made a choice] based on the guidance we had been receiving and then the decision of picking a date that seems to be able to be the safest and to continue the safe environment,” he said in a phone interview. “As outlined in the email, guidance from the state officials, health officials, [and] our colleagues at Tufts.”

Now, students will not be able to return to residence halls until Jan. 21, a weeklong push from the original date. Move-in will be staggered through Jan. 24. On-campus students selected move-in times earlier this month ahead of Pelton’s announcement of the change. No classes will be held on Jan. 21 or Jan. 22 to allow for students to move into residence halls. 

The decision comes as COVID-19 continues to rage through the city of Boston and the nation, surpassing record infection and death numbers originally set in April. In Massachusetts, coronavirus cases have topped 3,000 every day but one since Dec. 7, and Boston surpassed 1,000 coronavirus deaths earlier this week. Massachusetts has reported nearly 12,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.  

In late August, when students returned to campus for the fall semester, the state was averaging approximately 400 new cases per day. The final week of in-person courses in the fall semester brought a rash of new positive tests among Emerson community members. Twenty community members received a positive test in the final two in-person weeks of the semester, compared to 32 between early August and late November.  

Residential students must quarantine upon arrival to campus until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result from Tufts Medical Center. After that, until Jan. 29, students are only able to leave their rooms for meals, medical and testing appointments, and to check mail. 

Residence assistants will move into campus housing on Jan. 11, a five-day delay from the initially planned Jan. 6 move-in, Director of Housing and Residence Education Christie Anglade announced in an email Wednesday evening.  New students are scheduled to move-in on Jan. 13. 

The college is working alongside the Massachusetts state immunization program to secure COVID-19 vaccinations for students, the email announced. It is unclear when college students would be able to receive a vaccine as they fall under the “general public” categorization on the state’s priority list. Muurisepp declined to provide additional details on the college’s vaccine distribution and gave no indication as to when further details would be announced

Dana Gerber and Ann E. Matica contributed reporting. 

This story was updated to include new information about Residence Assistant move-in.