Emerson reports 7 new positives, bringing weekly total past double digits for first time in weeks

Emerson%27s+COVID-19+testing+center+at+the+corner+of+Kneeland+Street+and+Harrison+Ave.

Photo: Zhihao Wu

Emerson’s COVID-19 testing center at the corner of Kneeland Street and Harrison Ave.

By Charlie McKenna, Editor-in-Chief

Emerson reported seven new positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday out of the 1,063 tests administered Wednesday, bringing the spring semester’s total to 116, a 93 percent increase from last semester’s 60 positives. 

The seven new positives bring this week’s total up to 11 positives—the first time Emerson has surpassed double digits in any week since the week of Feb. 21. 

Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp wrote in a Thursday afternoon email that the new positives came from four students living on-campus and three living off-campus. Muurisepp’s email said “several of these positive cases seem to be linked and resulted in transmission within a group of people.”

The email from Muurisepp reflects the first time the college has notified the community of a “cluster” of cases amongst students. Earlier this semester, administrators acknowledged they saw evidence of “community spread” but that was not the result of a contained group, as appears to be the case now. 

Muurisepp previously told The Beacon in February that administrators would reveal identifying information for those who tested positive only if they were seeing any “concerning patterns.”

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The rise of positive tests on campus comes amid a slow climb for cases in the state, as Massachusetts has now reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases five times in the last eight days.

Thursday’s dashboard update also reported five community members in isolation on campus and 10 in quarantine on campus, the highest reported number of students in quarantine and isolation since late February. 

Those in 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. 

Massachusetts reported 2,455 new coronavirus cases Thursday, a rise from the 2,252 new infections reported Wednesday. The death toll rose by 32. 

The 2,455 new cases reported Thursday push the state past 600,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic began last March. Massachusetts surpassed 500,000 confirmed cases on Feb. 1. 

Thursday’s case total marks the second time this week cases have surpassed 2,000, following a three-day period where cases dipped below that marker. Last week, the state surpassed 2,000 cases for a three-day period, a trend that had not been observed since Feb. 12. 

The state reports two COVID-19 positivity rates—one with higher education testing and one without. On Thursday the seven-day test positivity rate with higher education removed sat at 4.2 percent, up from 3.9 percent reported this time last week. The rate that includes higher education sits at 2.5 percent. 

The state reported 700 total hospitalizations Thursday, up from the 622 reported this time last week. Hospitalizations have slowly begun rising over the past three weeks after declining substantially over the course of February and March following a spike amid the state’s wintertime surge. Thursday marks the first time hospitalizations have reached 700 since March 4. 

On Thursday, Massachusetts reported 83,879 new vaccinations, bringing the state’s total to 3,638,590. Nearly 20 percent of the state’s population is now fully inoculated against COVID-19—meaning they have received both doses of the vaccines manufactured by Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.   

Emerson shifted from a manual data reporting process to an automatic one on Oct. 13. 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 in August, 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. 

Administrators said in August the decision to remove hospitalizations was part of an effort to increase transparency, as the college was concerned it could not accurately track the metric. Invalid results were deemed “not valuable” data by “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp. 

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