Emerson Los Angeles COVID-19 numbers reach new heights

By Adri Pray, Editor-at-large

Emerson’s Los Angeles campus is recovering from the surge of COVID-19 cases it experienced at the onset of the spring semester, which eclipsed all of the college’s cases last fall.

The campus, which receives COVID updates every week, reported two positives on Feb. 11. Friday’s numbers were remarkably lower than the 13 cases reported in the second week of the term—a positivity rate of over seven percent, given ELA’s student population of approximately 180.  

Associate Vice President Timothy Chang, who serves as ELA’s chief operations officer, said the surge was due to the global uptick in Omicron cases.

“We attribute most of [it] to the Omicron surge that was going on,” Chang said. “Things are kind of dropping down right now in L.A. County, so we anticipate that we’ll follow suit with that,” said Chang.

L.A. County reported a single-day high of 44,942 cases on Jan. 13. In comparison, Massachusetts’ single-day caseload peaked Jan. 5 at 30,805 cases.

ELA’s campus health protocols reflect the models of both Boston and Los Angeles, as well as the guidance set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chang said ELA does its best to mirror Boston’s protocols, while noting that ELA students can’t access medical professionals as easily as their Boston counterparts.

“We try to be as consistent as we can with Boston,” he said. “There are a couple of other factors we throw in to be a little more careful because we don’t have a health center here like the Boston campus does.” 

“If a student gets sick, we don’t have a nurse or medical professionals [on-campus] that can actually check in on them,” he continued. 

Though staff from the L.A. campus offices of Residential Life and Student Life make an effort to check in on students, Chang said the absence of a health center forces them to remain “conservative with their approach towards the coronavirus.”

Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 policies differ from the policies of the state of California. Though Governor Gavin Newsom announced a relaxing of the indoor mask mandate starting Feb. 16, L.A. County will continue its mask mandate indefinitely—and Emerson is following suit. 

“We’re still being really careful, so we still have a mask mandate in the building,” Chang said. “Unfortunately we still can’t allow students to have guests yet, and that’s partially what Emerson Boston is doing, but it’s also because the [California] Department of Public Health out here doesn’t want us to have those congregate settings where students and young folks are gathering and potentially spreading the virus.”

ELA continues to take guidance from Boston as well. Chang consults with Associate Vice President of Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who, as the college’s “COVID Lead,” sets and advises administrators on the Boston campus’s protocol.

“We don’t have any set meetings, but we reach out to each other as things come up,” Muurisepp said. “As we are looking to adjust policies here, we’ll see how that’s translated for LA, which is a completely different situation.”

Chang consulted with Muurisepp when setting the COVID-19 testing requirements for ELA, which requires three rapid tests and one PCR test per week. ELA also enforces the use of N95 masks on campus to further protect students.

ELA also distributed CDC-approved Honeywell masks—a distinct model from the KN95s given to Boston faculty members which some alleged were counterfeit

“They are legitimate, made in the U.S.A., Honeywell, N95 masks,” Chang said. “They have the markings with the lot number and the whole nine yards on every single mask.” 

“The requirement is we use these N95s on campus and the benefit of them is they’re molded cups, so it gives you a little bit more space to actually speak, and you can actually hear people better with them compared to the ones that touch your lips,” he continued.

Similar to Boston, ELA follows the five-day isolation and quarantine protocol set in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and asks students to continue to monitor their symptoms in the subsequent five days and beyond in order to keep the community safe.

Madison Dey-Richey, a senior screenwriting major at ELA, received a positive COVID-19 test result on Jan. 26 and was moved into isolation just hours later, per ELA’s COVID guidelines. Unlike some on Emerson’s Boston campus, she said she did not have an uncommon relocation experience, according to ELA’s isolation moving and housing protocol. 

“I was moved into isolation right away and I quarantined for five days, then they let us out,” Dey-Richey said. “They came, gave us a rapid test to see if we were infectious, and if we weren’t, we got to leave.”

Despite higher case numbers and the recent spike, Dey-Richey says she feels safe.

“Everyone wears a mask out here,” Dey-Richey said. “I know that they’re trying to reduce its spread as much as possible, so overall, I do feel safe.”