Emerson semester total tops 550 COVID-19 cases

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Photo: Alec Klusza

COVID lead Erik Muurisepp sits at his desk on the fourth floor of the Walker Building.

By Adri Pray, Assistant Express News Editor

Emerson reported 14 COVID-19 tests of the 803 administered on Tuesday, setting the daily positivity rate at 1.74 percent.

The college also reported 29 community members in on-campus isolation. Two 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.

“We had more positives in the past seven days than the previous week or two, so certainly that’s a little concerning,” “COVID” Lead Erik Muurisepp said. “But, I think it’s just a reminder that the pandemic is still here. [We’re] overall, still happy with everything that everyone is doing across campus, but certainly keeping an eye on those numbers.”

For the week of Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, Emerson reported 57 positive COVID-19 tests of the 3,380 administered. The weekly positivity rate last week sat at 1.69 percent.

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Emerson has reported 552 positive cases and administered 38,085 tests since Jan. 3. The college’s cumulative positivity rate sits at 1.45 percent.

Muurisepp’s biggest worry regarding the upcoming spring break is students “letting their guards down.” He acknowledged the college’s shift to a mask-optional model, which will occur March 21, as a potential risk for spread of the virus and advised all students to take precaution even after that day. 

Though the college is strongly encouraging students to obtain a rapid test prior to returning from spring break, but is not requiring an attestation, Emerson will not supply students with these tests as they did for Thanksgiving Break. 

“Rapid tests are much more readily available, so we wanted to get the word out early that we were not going to provide [students] with that,” Muurisepp said. “We entered this new phase of living along with it, and many times getting rapids for various things become the responsibility of the user.”

If students are unable to obtain a rapid test, Muurisepp encourages students to reach out to him or other members of administration for assistance.

Emerson recently announced a change in COVID-19 policy, allowing students to host non-Emerson guests in residence halls starting Feb. 22, and shifting to an indoor mask-optional policy excluding classroom spaces starting March 21. The decision came as Emerson saw a campus-wide decline in COVID-19 cases. 

As the college “reserves the right” to change the COVID-19 policy at any time to keep the community safe, Muurisepp said Emerson may adopt a stronger policy following spring break.

“We could increase testing that week and have everyone test twice if we wanted or we felt the need,” he said. “If we see any trends we might limit some of the events or activities that we’ve had and we’ve allowed, but again, we don’t want to have to do that.”

Muurisepp also confirmed a second shipment of KN95 masks located in the Campus Life Office and 172 Tremont’s info desk for student use.

The mask policy change will be implemented just one week after students, faculty and staff return to campus. Because COVID-19 symptoms appear two to fourteen days after exposure, some students expressed concern over the change. 

Muurisepp assured the community that the policy implementation comes at the right time, as the reservations from administration were addressed.

“I think there are times where I may even question it. Not in regards to policy, but just, ‘is this the right thing to do at the right time?’” Muurisepp said. “We’ve had conversations around it, but I wouldn’t say anyone was in full objection. Everyone that we presented it to on an administrative level believes in it.”

The state’s downwards tick of COVID-19 cases continued on Wednesday as Massachusetts reported 907 positive cases for Tuesday, with a daily positivity rate of 1.85 percent. The death toll rose to 35.

Hospitalizations went down as reported on Wednesday as the state reported 401, with 223 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 2.99 percent as of Feb. 23. Including higher education, the rate sits at 1.85 percent as of March 1.

Massachusetts reported 8,293 new vaccinations—including boosters—from Monday to Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 13,946,700 doses. Wednesday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,287,810 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. 

Mayor Wu lifted the proof-of-vaccine requirement for all Boston residents citing the drop to previously established thresholds last week. On Tuesday, Wu and Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission Dr. Bisola Ojikutu announced the indoor mask mandate will be terminated on March 5. The decision was voted for unanimously by Boston’s Board of Health.

The kindergarten through twelfth-grade public school bus mask mandate was lifted on Tuesday as well, as was confirmed by the state Department of Health.