Emerson denies COVID-19 testing to off-campus students over winter break

A+sign+on+the+window+of+Emerson%27s+coronavirus+testing+site+at+Tufts+Medical+Center.

Media: Domenic Conte

A sign on the window of Emerson’s coronavirus testing site at Tufts Medical Center.

By Alec Klusza, Assistant News Editor

Off-campus students staying in Boston over winter break have not accessed testing through Emerson since Nov. 26.  Those students will have to wait until Jan. 19 to get tested through the college again, after the transition into the spring semester. 

When in-person classes came to an end in November, testing services at the Tufts Medical Center facility that housed Emerson’s testing—a linchpin of the college’s COVID-19 containment plan during the fall and spring semesters—were limited only to the small group of students approved to stay on campus over the break. 

The decision not to allow off-campus students to be tested came after a drop in demand as many students traveled home for the break, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and “COVID Lead” Erik Muurisepp said.

“After [Nov.18], the testing center capacity and operations have been reduced for the winter period,” Muurisepp said in an interview. “The demand is much lower as we are into winter intersession. Students that have been approved to live on campus—about 40 people—are allowed to be testing at the test center.”

Faculty, staff, and student employees who have had to access spaces on campus over the break were also allowed to continue to get tested at Tufts Medical Center.

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Northeastern University continued to require off-campus students in the area surrounding the campus to be tested every three days over the break. Boston University took advantage of the lower demand to open up their testing program to faculty, staff, and graduate students who were engaged only in virtual learning and were not regularly tested during the semester, according to the college’s websites.

On Dec. 31, over a month after the conclusion of in-person classes, Off-Campus Student Services emailed a list of free testing centers available over the break in the Boston area to off-campus students. 

The college was originally planning to resume testing for off-campus students on Jan. 11, according to a Dec. 22 Emerson Today post. This would have come days after resident assistants were slated to move back into residence halls, Muurisepp said. However, the delayed start of the semester pushed back the date off-campus students could start testing by two weeks, to Jan. 25. This was then moved up to Jan. 19.

Sophomore Lucille Solomon said she reluctantly stayed home in Maryland after leaving Boston for Thanksgiving break. Solomon, who lives off-campus, said she decided to stay home for the break because she was scared of returning to a state where cases are spiking without having a consistent source of testing.

“It wasn’t worth it coming back to Boston, risking my family’s safety,” Solomon said in a phone interview. 

Solomon was planning on returning to Boston for work after Thanksgiving and then going back home for the Christmas holiday. But with Emerson no longer providing testing to off-campus students, she decided to stay in Maryland for the entire break for the health and safety of her family. 

Solomon said that change forced her to leave her job. 

“I had a job last semester, and it wasn’t worth it coming back to Boston, just to work because it wasn’t worth risking my family’s safety.”

Though the college said they were restricting the testing of off-campus students, some report walking into the Tufts testing center and getting tested as normal without hassle.

“It was really no problem,” senior Eric Mauri said in a phone interview. “I walked, scanned my ID, got my ticket—like normal. But the process in which we were facilitating the tests was more like DIY, where you walk in, immediately blow your nose, and just take the swabs and the tubes yourself, and do it all yourself without anyone watching you. And then you just handed them the tube at the end. And you got on your way. And I got my results within 24 hours like normal.”

Once the spring term begins, both on and off-campus students are required to get tested twice a week, unlike the fall semester mandate of once a week. Faculty and staff who will be working on campus at least one day a week are now also required to get weekly testing, as opposed to last semester’s opt-in system.