How does Emerson’s COVID-19 response compare to others’ in Massachusetts?

By Karina Sanchez

Following Gov. Charlie Baker’s declaration of a state of emergency Tuesday, a cascade of colleges and universities across the commonwealth told students to vacate campus housing and moved classes online.

Emerson College released its own statement Tuesday evening detailing the decision to shift classes online.

“In the interest of safeguarding the health and wellness of our students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the greater community, who may be more vulnerable to this disease, the college has made the difficult decision to transition all in-person classes to online learning for the remainder of the spring term according to the schedule below,” the statement read.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow asked students to not return to the college after spring break and be moved out by Sunday, March 15.

“The decision to move to virtual instruction was not made lightly,” Bacow said in a statement. “The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings.” 

Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, MIT, and Boston College are asking students to move out of campus housing before spring break and are conducting all classes online for the remainder of the semester. Northeastern and Boston University are all moving classes online.

In the same statement sent to Emerson students on Tuesday, President M. Lee Pelton left the option up to students to leave campus or not.

“The Boston campus will remain open to the conclusion of the Spring Term,” Pelton wrote. “Students will have the option to leave or stay on campus.”

Other universities like Suffolk, Tufts, and Mount Holyoke have also announced their dorms are closing unless students have special circumstances. Suffolk President Marissa Kelly specified what special circumstances meant to their campus in a statement to students.

“However, to minimize health risks to our community, we ask that students who are currently living in University-sponsored housing make plans to move out of their rooms, with the exception of international students living on campus who are unable to return to their home countries and domestic students with special circumstances. Students who move out of the residence halls will be eligible for a pro-rated refund based on the time remaining in the semester,” Kelly stated. 

Emerson professor Nancy Allen said she believes that schools must decide to go remote on a case by case basis. Allen has a master’s degree in Public Health in Health Communications from Tufts University and has presented at the Centers for Disease Controls health communications conference. She teaches courses on infectious diseases at Emerson.

“It is different for Emerson because we have just returned from spring break,” Allen said in an interview. “It would not have been a reasonable decision to have gone remote before spring break because the virus was in a totally different stage than what it is now, and the timing of spring break has put us in this state of unknown.”

Emerson has not addressed whether students who decide to leave would be reimbursed for the remainder of the semester and what steps to take in moving out. 

President of Suffolk University Marisa Kelly guaranteed that students who left their on-campus housing would be reimbursed for the remainder of the semester, according to the Suffolk Journal.

Allen made it clear that our healthcare system is not prepared for the alignment of flu season and COVID-19. She warned that outbreaks can go on for unpredictable amounts of time.

“We do not have enough hospital beds or respirators to respond to coronavirus and seasonal flu,” Allen said. “This could push the healthcare system to the brink.”