‘Learning to live with the virus’: Emerson reports 31 positive COVID-19 cases Tuesday

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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 College has reported 332 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the spring semester—the highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic—and currently sits at a 3.20 percent positivity rate.

The past week has seen at least 10 positives each day, save for the holiday weekend when almost no tests were administered. Tuesday’s dashboard update reported 31 positive COVID-19 tests, out of the 1,846 administered on Monday—marking the highest single-day total of the past week. The dashboard also reported 47 students to be in on-campus isolation and zero in on-campus quarantine. 

Regarding the exponentially high numbers of COVID cases observed since the onset of the spring semester, Associate Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead,” stated that it was expected after last year’s wintertime surge. 

“What we’re seeing is the virus has changed, and we now have this new variant and it’s much more transmissible,” Muurisepp said. “As we saw last year, with cold and flu season, folks coming indoors and all of that, there’s sort of that anticipated or expected increase in cases.”

Muurisepp, in an interview with The Beacon, clarified the quarantine and isolation guidelines updated over winter break; community members that test positive must complete a five-day isolation with limited outside contact. Once the five days are complete and symptoms have dissipated, they are allowed to return to their housing assignments to be further monitored for the following five days. Community members are expected to report if symptoms return so they can be placed back in isolation. 

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“If a person were to leave isolation, come back into their main housing assignment, and then the roommate was to test positive, we would assess that on a case-by-case basis, as we do with all of them,” he said. “Our decision is based on the guidance of science.”

Muurisepp also spoke about the students relocated to the W Boston hotel—a move he said was necessary to create more isolation housing in response to the recent COVID surge on campus and in Boston. 

“It was clear early on in the winter that we should have a plan in place to have more isolation spaces available on campus,” he said. “In order to create those we needed to secure other housing opportunities for our students. That’s what resulted in us securing spaces at the W.”

Muurisepp said that the college had “entered a phase of learning to live with the virus,” and is now adjusting to the new normal.  

“In the past two years, we’ve learned more about the virus,” Muurisepp said. “We know how it acts, we know how it operates. What we know has not changed is that there’s still a fourteen day potential incubation period.”

“Being able to get back to life, academics, social life, personal life—adjusted—but at least being able to do something in those six through ten days, really helps us get to that next level of learning to live with the virus,” Muurisepp said.

Massachusetts reported 14,647 positive cases on Wednesday—a 16.70 percent positivity rate. The state also reported 3,187 hospitalizations, and the death toll rose by 199.

The state of Massachusetts also tracks two kinds of COVID-19 positivity rates—one including higher education testing and one without due to the number of colleges and universities within the commonwealth. The seven-day positive rate without higher education has not been updated since Jan. 12 and currently sits at 23.08 percent. Including higher education, the rate currently sits at 16.70 percent.

Massachusetts reported 36,886 new vaccinations, including boosters, from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 13,346,017 doses. Wednesday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,209,197 Mass. residents—approximately 75 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.