Emerson reports eight new positive coronavirus tests, issues warning on variant

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Photo: Zhihao Wu

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

By Frankie Rowley, Assistant News Editor

Emerson reported eight new positive COVID-19 tests Monday, bringing the spring semester testing cycle’s cumulative total to 19, and the total across both semesters to 79 as students descended upon the college’s downtown Boston campus from across the country for residential student move-in. 

The new positives pushed the college’s cumulative positivity rate to .44 percent for the spring semester. During the first two weeks of regular testing in the fall, Emerson reported six new positives on 5,462 tests—a positivity rate of .10 percent. 

Residential students are required to get a COVID-19 test at Emerson’s testing center at a Tufts Medical Center facility before moving in. Thus far, 4,319 tests have been administered in the spring semester. The eight positives reported Monday came across four days of testing.

At least one new positive test has been reported each day the dashboard has been updated in the spring, excluding testing done on Jan. 20 and Jan. 12. 

The fourteen positives over the course of the last week of testing represent the second-highest total across any weekly testing period across the fall and spring semesters. The week of Nov. 22 brought 16 new positive tests and with it the cancellation of all non-academic in-person activities on Emerson’s campus. At the time, Muurisepp said contact tracing turned up no connections between the positives. 

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The uptick in positives this spring mirrors the increase seen at the conclusion of the fall semester. The final month of testing brought 28 new positives and a positivity rate of .38 percent as compared to 32 positives and a positivity rate of .07 percent across the first three months of fall testing.

Four students are currently in isolation on campus, while two are in quarantine. Quarantine is for those exposed to the virus while isolation is for those who are presumed who are “known or reasonably known to be infected.”

Coronavirus cases nationwide and in Massachusetts have accelerated dramatically since students first returned to campus in August. Then, the seven-day average of new cases in the state sat at approximately 300. Now, that figure sits around 3,000—ten times higher. 

The eight positives come on the heels of two cases of the highly contagious coronavirus variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom, discovered in Massachusetts last week. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Jan. 15 warned the variant could become the dominant strain in the U.S. as soon as early March. The variant is believed to be at least 50 percent more transmissible than prior strains of the virus. 

In an email sent to students Monday afternoon, Assistant Vice President and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp addressed the spread of the variant and re-emphasized the need for compliance with college safety precautions.

“As we have learned these past eleven months, information comes quickly and can be ever-changing as it relates to the virus and guidance,” Muurisepp wrote in the email. “Additionally, with the new administration, the federal government may be releasing updated information and guidance.”

The PCR tests administered for Emerson students, faculty, and staff at a Tufts Medical Center facility are able to detect the variant, Muurisepp’s email said. However, he did not clarify whether the Broad Institute, the facility responsible for providing and processing testing from Emerson and other area colleges, intends to begin screening for the variant. 

No college policies are slated to change based on the variant, Muurisepp said. He compared the mutation of COVID-19 to the mutations of influenza and added the contact tracing system instated by the college for Fall 2020 would continue to be employed.

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