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Emerson College taking action to deal with spike in COVID-19 cases

Signs posted on an Emerson College building remind those entering to wear face masks.
Signs posted on an Emerson College building remind those entering to wear face masks.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Emerson College is taking several temporary steps to limit in-person interactions amid a spike in positive COVID-19 cases, a school official said Wednesday.

Erik Muurisepp, Emerson’s assistant vice president for campus life, confirmed the moves in an e-mail message to the college community.

Muurisepp wrote that in-person classes will continue, but a number of other changes will take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday and remain in place for at least a week.

Those changes, he wrote, include prohibiting all in-person student activities and gatherings, including athletics, whether they’re held indoors or outdoors, with the exception of classes and virtual events; offering only to-go meals at the Dining Center; closing the fitness center at 52 Summer St.; barring group meetings at a college building located at 172 Tremont St.; making the library available for only socially distanced study and reserved study spaces; and prohibiting student travel.

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According to Emerson’s publicly available online COVID-19 dashboard, the school logged 26 positive tests out of 5,891 between March 29 and April 4, for a positivity rate of 0.44 percent.

As of April 7, the dashboard says, 24 people were in isolation on campus, a designation reserved for those known or reasonably known to be infected. Also as of April 7, 38 people were in quarantine on campus, a designation that covers anyone who may have been exposed to the virus but hasn’t started to show symptoms.

Since January 11, the dashboard says, Emerson has logged 143 positive cases out of 62,297 tests administered, for a positivity rate of 0.23 percent.

During the pause, Muurisepp wrote, students should only leave their residences for a limited number of reasons.

Those include attending in-person classes or studying at the library; picking up food; going outside for individual, physically distanced exercise; seeking medical care; getting a required COVID-19 test; or going to and from employment, he wrote.

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“We also request that students not attend social events or gatherings in the community and not host any guests in their residential rooms or apartments,” Muurisepp wrote. “Visiting other residential rooms or lounges other than where you reside is not permitted.”

He added that students “should regularly complete the daily symptom check, even while limiting their movement for the next seven days. Reviewing and reporting how you feel, including any symptoms you might be experiencing, is essential to ensuring the health and safety of those who live and work on campus.”

He closed his note with a rallying cry, reminding Emerson community members that they’re in the home stretch of the spring semester.

“We have a few more weeks before the close of the spring term, and we encourage everyone to remain vigilant, properly wear your masks when you are in the company of people with whom you do not live, keep physical distance at all times, practice healthy hand hygiene, and continue to follow the testing protocol we have put in place,” Muurisepp wrote.

The restrictions at Emerson come a day after Northeastern University and Brown University both announced that students will have to get a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus in the fall.

While Northeastern remained in the single digits daily for positive cases for 16 of the first 21 days of March, it saw an 11-day streak of double-digit numbers each day from March 22 through April 1, according to data posted to the school website.

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The most recent publicly available seven-day positive test rate at Northeastern was 0.32 percent, the site said Wednesday afternoon. To date, the site said, Northeastern has completed 921,912 tests, 1,746 of which have come back positive, for a positivity rate of about 0.18 percent.

“As you can see, we saw a rise in cases about a week ago,” said Northeastern spokeswoman Renata Nyul via email. “Our contact tracers determined that it was due to off-campus activities, including travel, by students. We launched an Instagram campaign, including peer-to-peer communication, and a News@Northeastern QA with the head of our testing/contact tracing person to remind students to stay vigilant as we are getting close to concluding a successful academic year with an in-person commencement in a few weeks.”

The numbers, Nyul continued, “have declined significantly since then and are now at a very low rate.”

She said the school’s efforts are part of “our ongoing Protect The Pack campaign we have been running since last August. When we saw the recent rise we turned up the volume without having to start from scratch. We believe that is the reason we were effective in reducing the rise in cases.”

At Boston University, the student positivity rate for the week of March 31 through April 6 was 0.43 percent, out of 13,694 people tested, the school’s online data says. The faculty positivity rate for the same period was 0.20 percent, out of 1,523 people tested, and the staff positivity rate during that week was 0.21 percent, out of 3,841 non-faculty employees tested, according to the data.

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Since July of 2020, the data shows, BU has logged 1,872 positive tests out of 910,475 tests administered, for a positivity rate of 0.21 percent.

Colin Riley, a BU spokesman, said via email that the school’s “continuing the frequent testing and daily symptom attestation we require of our students,” and that officials are “not contemplating a lockdown.”





Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.