Emerson reports four COVID-19 cases following announcement of updated policies

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

The exterior of the COVID testing site.

By Adri Pray, Assistant Express News Editor

On Friday, Emerson reported four COVID-19 tests for Thursday of the 756 tests administered, setting the daily positivity rate at 0.53 percent.

The college also reported 11 community members in on-campus isolation. Zero were reported to be in on-campus quarantine. 

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.

As of Jan. 3, Emerson has reported 462 positive cases and administered 32,461 tests. The cumulative positivity rate sits at 1.42 percent.

Students are expected to continue to test weekly, per updated COVID-19 guidance put in place Feb. 7.

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The state’s downwards tick of COVID-19 cases continued on Friday as Massachusetts reported 1,983 positive cases for Thursday, with a daily positivity rate of 2.74 percent. The death toll rose to 47.

Hospitalizations went down as reported on Friday as the state reported 719, with 379 of these hospitalizations occurring in those who are fully vaccinated.

The state of Massachusetts also tracks two kinds of COVID-19 positivity rates—one including higher education testing and one without. The seven-day positive rate without higher education sits at 4.14 percent as of Feb. 16. Including higher education, the rate sits at 2.74 percent as of Feb. 17.

Massachusetts reported 13,711 new vaccinations—including boosters—from Thursday to Friday, bringing the state’s total to 13,839,452 doses. Friday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,267,593 Mass. residents—according to Mass. Department of Health data, 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. 

Last week, Governor Charlie Baker announced the lift of the mandatory mask mandate in kindergarten through twelfth grade by Feb. 28. The high vaccination rate in Massachusetts was the main reason for lifting the mask mandate, cited Baker.

However, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced the day after that Boston Public Schools would not be lifting Governor Baker’s mask mandate, and is electing to wait to see “a consistent trend of downward progress,” as young children are not being vaccinated as fast as other age groups, she said in a news conference.

The Massachusetts Department of Health loosened the mask restriction Tuesday after advising certain severely immunocompromised individuals to continue to mask in public spaces following the dip in Massachusetts’ COVID-19 cases.

Friday, Emerson announced a shift in COVID-19 policy, including the allocation of non-Emerson guests in residence halls starting Feb. 22, and will drop the non-classroom indoor mask mandate starting March 21. The decision comes as Emerson sees a campus-wide decline in COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, Mayor Wu announced a threshold to ease the proof-of-vaccination rules last week. The mandate will be relaxed when the city’s occupancy in the intensive care unit falls below 95 percent, the city has fewer than 200 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day and the positivity rate falls below five percent.

The Boston Public Health Commission will consider easing the mask mandate for public kindergarten through twelfth-grade schools once the same baseline requirements as relaxing the vaccination mandate is met.

In a communication released to Emerson community members, the college reported to have obtained a “limited supply” of KN95 masks made by a CDC-approved manufacturer on Jan. 18 for student use. These masks can be picked up from the information office located at 172 Tremont, or the Campus Life Office, Walker 411.

Though in an email sent by Emerson College’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors just three days after the college’s announcement reported the masks as “counterfeit,” the union was unable to confirm the efficacy of the KN95 masks.

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.