Emerson surge continues as spring semester approaches

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

Emerson’s testing site at Tufts Medical Center.

By Abigail Lee, Magazine Editor

In the week leading up to students’ return to campus, Emerson reported over 80 positive COVID-19 tests, reflecting a statewide struggle to contain the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Of the 1,056 tests administered from Jan 3. to Jan. 7, 83 were reported to be positive, bringing the week’s positivity rate to 7.86 percent. This marks a significant jump from the fall semester when the average seven-day positivity rates remained steadily below one percent, excluding the week of Dec. 13 when the rate reached 3.60 percent. 

The statewide outbreak first materialized during the month of December when 117 cases were reported in three weeks from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19. The biggest indicator of a surge at the college occurred during the week of Dec. 13, when 89 positives were reported within a week—a benchmark which could be surpassed by this week’s numbers. 

Since the start of the surge, Emerson has reported 200 positive tests, the largest number of positives ever reported within a four-week period by the college throughout the pandemic. 

The surge has since continued into the new year, with Emerson breaking its previously set record of highest number of cases reported in a single day on Jan. 3. 39 positives were reported by the college, eclipsing its record of 30 set on Dec. 14. 

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No data has been provided on the number of students in on-campus isolation or quarantine, though cases have been reported “minimal to mild symptoms, due to the efficacy of the vaccine and boosters,” according to Interim President Bill Gilligan and Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp in an email sent out on Friday.   

Massachusetts reported 26,187 confirmed cases on Friday and a seven-day positivity rate of 23.02 percent—a record-setting average. The state also reported 55 new confirmed deaths and 41,877 vaccinations, including boosters. 

The total number of confirmed cases statewide is 1,186,137, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The death toll now sits at 20,106, and there are 2,637 hospitalizations at the time of reporting. Vaccination efforts continue with 5,144,885 Massachusetts residents fully vaccinated—about 75 percent of the population.

The statewide surge has also been attributed to the Omicron variant, which was first identified in Massachusetts on Dec. 4, just 10 days before Emerson saw its record-breaking test positivity rates.  

Despite Massachusetts’ recent uptick, Emerson moved forward with the spring semester move-in schedule, with both new and returning students arriving on campus over this weekend. The college mandated booster shots and negative test results before move-in as well as a return to last spring’s twice-a-week testing regimen that will be implemented after this weekend. Classes will begin virtually the week of Jan 11., and although subject to change, an in-person start is planned for Jan. 18.

The same email sent Friday announced new quarantine and isolation protocols that adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines. Students exposed to a positive case must quarantine for five days and will not be allowed to attend in-person classes during that time period. Those who test positive must isolate for five days instead of the previous 10—a change that aligns with the CDC’s recent updated guidance.