Erik Muurisepp, Emerson’s COVID Lead and newly-promoted Associate VP, looks to future of OneEmerson

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Photo: Alec Klusza

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

By Frankie Rowley, Deputy Express Editor

Erik Muurisepp received a promotion from assistant vice president to associate vice president of campus life on Sept. 4—marking a more visible role at the college for the man who helped direct Emerson’s COVID-19 response through the thick of the pandemic just as the college sees an increase in positive COVID-19 tests. 

Muurisepp, who has served as Emerson’s “COVID Lead” since 2020, was promoted to his new position as students enter a new, in-person semester, despite the rise of positive tests among largely vaccinated community members. Despite the turmoil, Muurisepp continues to look towards the future of the college while the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast shadows over campus life—using his platform to promote confidence in vaccinations and testing compliance. 

“My new role is just the continued management of our campus life areas, housing, conduct, staff engagement, orientation programs—and some more crisis planning,” he said in an interview with The Beacon. 

Muurisepp’s responsibilities, he said, are essentially similar to those he held in his former position. He remains confident in the college’s decision to roll back pandemic restrictions for a largely in-person semester, stating that widespread vaccinations—96 percent of Emerson students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated—have made the in-person experience feasible. 

“We are committed to our academic program,” he said. “We believe it is important for us to be able to do it in person for the fall semester. We know there are risks, but we also believe—as we’ve sat with this [issue] and spoken with other institutions— that we have rounded the corner of learning to live with the virus.”

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Since fall testing began on Aug. 23, Emerson has seen a total of 25 positive COVID-19 tests, a stark rise from the nine reported this time last year. While Muurisepp declined to disclose information regarding individual or group cases, he did suggest that a sizable portion of the 25 positives have been breakthrough cases—vaccinated community members contracting COVID-19. Nevertheless, Muurisepp has stated in past interviews that breakthrough cases “were expected.”

These cases come as the college works to rebuild the “Emerson bubble,” a campus-wide effort to recreate a COVID-safe environment spanning the duration of the first month of the fall semester. The effort is set to end on Sept. 17—a date that grows ever closer.  Muurisepp, for his part, also remains noncommittal on whether the college will go ahead with its original plan to lift remaining COVID-19 restrictions—including its mask mandate—on that date. 

“We’re keeping an eye on the cases in the city—certainly within Emerson,” he said. “As you can see in the dashboard, we continue to have a few cases pop up here and there. I really don’t have a crystal ball to see what the 17th will look like. We’ll get communication out prior to the 17th, for sure.”

In developing this year’s OneEmerson policy, Muurisepp has already worked to restructure the college’s COVID policy in a more effective manner. As part of this, the college opted to discard its previous system of linking the symptom tracker—a questionnaire on the Emerson app where community members are required to fill to help track symptoms of COVID-19—to campus access. Now, students may access campus buildings without having completed the tracker—though it is still officially “required” to be filled out. 

“We looked at all the data from last year and the return on it was not huge,” Muurisepp said.  “We certainly know that tracking is important, especially this year, but more so is testing and vaccines. When we looked at all of the safety measures together, testing compliance is really going to be the most important thing. That’s where we really put all our efforts.”

With the pandemic still an ever-present concern, Muurisepp noted that the college continues to provide quarantine housing for the 2021-22 academic year. However, due to the fact that the Paramount Center is in use as a residence hall, Emerson will be using vacant rooms in each building that have been set aside as quarantine housing. 

“They are spaces that can safely house people, have a private bath, private space, and all of that,” Muurisepp said.

As positive tests rise, Muurisepp added that there is an alternative quarantine housing plan in place, should the college surpass 20 community members in need of on-campus isolation or quarantine. 

“There’s always the possibility that we may need more, but hopefully we don’t,” he said. “We do have some contingency plans and alternatives if we needed to get there. Hopefully, we don’t need to.”