Emerson’s COVID-19 cases continue decline entering sixth week of semester

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

COVID testing site locating at 116 Harrison Avenue.

By Adri Pray, News Editor

On Wednesday, the college reported a singular COVID-19 case of the 879 tests administered Tuesday, setting the daily positivity rate at 0.11 percent and continuing Emerson’s downward trend.

For the week of Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, the college reported 18 positive COVID-19 cases with a weekly positivity rate of 0.32 percent.

The college also reported two community members in on-campus isolation and reported zero in on-campus quarantine for the week of Jan. 31

Since the start of the spring testing cycle, Emerson has reported a cumulative 439 positive cases, with a cumulative positivity rate sitting at 1.61 percent. That rate has fallen significantly since a high of 5.31 during the week of Jan. 9, when the college was experiencing a surge in cases driven by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

Massachusetts reported 2,794 positive cases on Wednesday, with a daily positivity rate of 4.08 percent. The death toll rose by 69.

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Hospitalizations have also fallen as the state reported 1,234, with 642 of those being those who are fully vaccinated.

In a community-wide email sent on Friday, Associate Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead,” outlined several new steps for reopening, including a decrease in testing protocol from twice per week to once.

“We had testing twice a week in the beginning [of the spring semester] to help us identify as quickly as possible any positive folks, so that we could limit the spread [of the surging Omicron variant],” Muurisepp said. “As numbers have decreased, talking to Tufts, looking at where the numbers are, they felt comfortable that we could go down to once a week testing.”

The decision to reduce the testing requirement has come after a marked decrease in on-campus positives.

“It was the right decision,” Muurisepp said. “We felt comfortable with where the numbers were. If things change, we may have to go back to twice a week, but hopefully we won’t have to do that.”

Within the updated protocol, Emerson announced it would start allowing non-Emerson guests on campus in non-residential facilities. However, guests are still barred from entering residence halls—a policy, Muurisepp said, that the college is hoping to reverse later this semester.

“Certainly, that’s our ultimate goal,” Muurisepp said. “The reason at this time we did not open up the residence halls was that we still wanted to make sure we were taking a measured approach to reducing the restrictions for campus.”

In a later email on Wednesday, Muurisepp laid out the protocol for students returning from the upcoming spring break. Students are encouraged to take a rapid test 24 hours before their return to campus—though the test does not require formal attestation to the college.

“It’s another step towards getting back to living along with this virus and normalcy,” said Muurisepp. “Rapid testing is much more readily available—that’s why we’re asking folks to obtain their own rapid test to do that 24 hours before they arrive. We’re going to trust folks that take it, if it’s positive, to stay where you are.”

Muurisepp doesn’t anticipate tightening restrictions when students return from spring break, given the present trend of the numbers.

“I don’t see us having other restrictions in place if things stay where they are,” he said. “Certainly if new variants show up or numbers are concerning, we would potentially assess that, but our hope is that we can keep the current restrictions as is—maybe [reexamine] some more. [Restrictions] wouldn’t ramp back up after spring break.”

Massachusetts also tracks two kinds of COVID-19 positivity rates—one including higher education testing and one without. The seven-day positivity rate without higher education excluded satits at 8.81 percent when last updated on Feb. 2. Including higher education, the rate sits at 4.08 percent as of Feb. 8.

Massachusetts reported 94,576 new vaccinations—including boosters—from Jan. 2 to Jan. 9, bringing the state’s total doses administered to 13,730,851. Wednesday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,236,541 Mass. residents—according to Mass. Department of Health data, approximately 76 percent of the state’s population—are fully vaccinated. This means that they have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Wednesday, 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.

Additionally, Mayor Michelle Wu announced an ease of the proof-of-vaccination rules Tuesday. 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.