Positive COVID-19 tests rising on campus, mirroring statewide trend

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

COVID testing site locating at 116 Harrison Avenue.

By Frankie Rowley, Deputy Express Editor

In the ten-day period since Nov. 8, Emerson reported 13 new positive COVID-19 tests—a marked increase in overall infections mirroring worsening cases in Massachusetts. 

Though daily case numbers remained relatively low—with a daily high of three on Nov. 10 and 11—they steadily accumulated into the double digits in the past week. The spike also corresponds with the switch to a pooled testing method, which began for students on Nov. 1.

Three community members were reported to be in on-campus isolation on Wednesday, with zero in on-campus quarantine. 

Of the 13 positive tests, 12 were recorded in the seven-day period between Nov. 10 and Nov. 16. The recent surge returns the college to a high not seen since late September, when 10 positive tests were reported over the course of a week

Despite the rise in positive tests, Associate Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp, who serves as Emerson’s “COVID Lead,” said he was not concerned—pointing out that the percentage of positives compared to overall tests administered is small. 

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“I think some more regular positive numbers are coming through,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re not seeing any concerning trends or any in-classroom transmission.” 

“In the realm of doing 5,000 tests, around that, a week, we’re still doing very well,” he added. 

Muurisepp said the rise in positives speaks to a trend beyond the confines of the Emerson community.

“What it really says for us is that the virus is still present,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how to learn to adjust to living with it, but there’s nothing of concern at this point.”

He noted that the spike mirrors a visible rise in cases in Massachusetts. In the same seven-day period, the state recorded 15,199 total cases—an average of 2,171 per day—and 107 deaths. On Wednesday, the state recorded its highest single-day total in two months. 

“Look at numbers in the New England area—they’re starting to go up a little bit,” he said. “That’s really where it’s important to make sure folks are still following protocols. Getting vaccinated, paying attention to when they’re eligible for booster shots as they approach the winter season and of course, most importantly, [getting their] flu shot.”

He also stated that with Boston entering its colder months, COVID is a “natural concern” along with the common cold and flu. 

“As we enter the colder season, obviously, folks are coming indoors in all aspects of Emerson and elsewhere, and outdoor dining is not as pleasant or plentiful with the colder weather,” Muurisepp said. “There is just natural concern as we enter this season with colds, flus, and of course, COVID potentially increasing spread.” 

However, Muurisepp acknowledged that concerns of travel-related COVID transmission prompted the college to provide at-home COVID-19 tests, which students will be required to take at least two days prior to their return to campus from Thanksgiving break. Students are expected to retest on campus within the three days of their return to campus. 

“We felt that offering that rapid test to everyone is peace of mind for folks when they’re about to travel back to Boston, peace of mind for us as we welcome everyone back, and then enter testing again for that week after Thanksgiving,” he said.