Spring semester hits 700-plus case count as Emerson updates COVID-19 protocol for summer session

Emersons+COVID-19+testing+center.

Photo: Hongyu Liu

Emerson’s COVID-19 testing center.

By Adri Pray, Frankie Rowley, and Bailey Allen

Emerson will instate relaxed COVID-19 policies during the summer term, according to a community-wide email from college officials sent Wednesday. 

Citing guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Boston Health Officials, the college will rescind its masking and contract tracing efforts in addition to altering its testing and isolation policy starting May 16.

Masks will become optional in all indoor campus spaces, including academic spaces and excluding the Center for Health and Wellness and Counseling and Psychological Services. State guidance requires medical facilities to remain masked.

Testing will be available for students only, as employees of the college are expected to “consult with their primary care providers about testing if they develop symptoms or have concerns that they may have COVID-19.”

Additionally, testing will only be necessary for symptomatic community members, but asymptomatic community members are recommended to self-test with rapid antigen tests, according to the guidance sent out by “COVID Lead” and Assistant Vice President of Campus Life, Erik Müürisepp.

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“[We’re] moving from surveillance testing to the symptomatic testing model that a lot of places have been using and going to start using to really focus on those that might be symptomatic,” he said.

COVID responsibilities such as “treating acute symptoms” and handling positive tests—which students are expected to self-report—will be taken over by the Center for Health and Wellness. The college’s partnership with Tufts Medical Center, where Emerson’s COVID-19 testing center is located, will be terminated on May 31 as well.

“We will continue to work in collaboration with our partners at TMC regarding COVID-19 virus testing as needed in the future,” wrote Muurisepp.

The college will also shift to an “isolate in place” model, taking away reserved on-campus quarantine and isolation spaces. Students who test positive will now isolate in their respective dorms and receive guidance from the college on how to isolate safely.

Isolated students must stay in their dorms for the first five days of isolation, but will be able to leave their residences to get food from the dining hall, seek medical assistance, and “other limited activities.” Masks—which will be provided by the college—must be worn at all times when out of living space during the 10-day isolation period.

According to Müürisepp, the college feels the success other places have seen proves it is the “right time” for Emerson to test this model, and is “less of an infraction to students in terms of having to move and relocate.”

“It’s similar to existing protocols, when your roommates are sick with flu or strep or other illnesses, they remain where they are,” he said. “Certainly we know that vaccines and boosters, the risk for severe illness, and all of that is minimized and so that’s where this model, we believe, is the best next step in this process.”

Vaccination requirements will remain in place, and community members are still asked to keep up-to-date with boosters to remain “fully vaccinated.”

“We expect everyone to have the vaccine and one booster, and we strongly encourage folks to remain up to date with all other booster recommendations,” Müürisepp said.

With the updated protocol coming into effect in the next few months, Müürisepp recognizes the college has seen a rise in cases in the past few days.

“We’ve seen more positives and, of course, we don’t want to,” he said. “At the same time, we know that overall positives in the city and the region are going up, so I think all in all, I’m still really proud to see people wearing their masks.”

On Wednesday, Emerson reported 13 COVID-19 positives of the 905 tests administered, setting the daily positivity rate at 1.44 percent.

The college reported 23 community members in on-campus isolation. Zero were reported to be in on-campus quarantine. 

Those in quarantine may have been exposed to COVID-19 but aren’t experiencing symptoms. Those in isolation are symptomatic, have produced a positive test, or are “reasonably known to be infected,” according to the college. Off-campus students are not counted in the quarantine and isolation numbers.

For the week of April 4 to April 10, Emerson reported 33 positive COVID-19 cases and administered 3,708 tests; the weekly positivity rate sits at 0.89 percent.

As of Jan. 3, Emerson has reported 711 positive cases and administered 56,696 tests. The cumulative positivity rate sits at 1.25 percent.

Mirroring Emerson’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the state’s upward tick of COVID-19 cases continued on Wednesday as Massachusetts reported 1,969 positive cases for Tuesday, with a seven-day positivity rate of 3.48 percent. The death toll rose by one.

An average of 1,582 cases were reported per day between April 7 to April 13, with the average daily death toll set at four.

The state updated the guidelines to qualify a COVID-related death. The new definition decreases the death toll by 3,770 and includes 355 deaths and probable deaths not previously recorded. All newly reported deaths occurred prior to April 2021.

Hospitalizations went up as reported on Wednesday as the state reported 286, with 164 of these hospitalizations occurring in those who are fully vaccinated.

An average of 174 hospitalizations were reported per day between April 7 and April 13.

The state of Massachusetts also tracks two kinds of COVID-19 positivity rates—one including higher education testing and one without. The seven-day positive rate without higher education sits at 3.94 percent as of April 6. Including higher education, the rate sits at 3.48 percent as of April 12.

Massachusetts reported 16,030 new vaccinations—including boosters—from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 14,278,743 doses. Wednesday’s daily vaccination update reported that 5,340,627 Mass. residents—according to Mass. Department of Health data, approximately 77 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. 

An average of 14,454 vaccinations were reported per day between April 7 and April 13.

As of April 4, the BA.2 “stealth” omicron variant makes up 72 percent of all COVID-19 cases. There is no data available regarding which strains make up the majority of Emerson’s caseload.

“The majority of the cases in New England seem to be [BA.2],” Muurisepp said. “It is a concern, but it also does not seem to be as jarring as a new variant or something that would cause us to have to change operations.”

More information on the COVID protocols will be issued online by the college before May 16.