Boston College students will not have to quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in Massachusetts if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of their return or test negatively when they arrive on campus, according to a letter sent to the BC community on Monday.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order on Friday mandating that, effective Aug. 1, those arriving in the Commonwealth from out of state must quarantine for 14 days upon entry or test negatively for COVID-19 no earlier than 72 hours before arrival. The order exempts travelers arriving from lower-risk states, including New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and the rest of New England, although this list is subject to change in accordance with public health data.
The announcement, BC’s first public guidance about the mandatory self-quarantine, came four days after Baker announced the order, which left students and families in limbo regarding whether they might have to adjust plans for traveling to BC. Associate Vice President of University Communications Jack Dunn did not respond to requests for comment on how the order would affect BC students once it was announced.
Thirty-four percent of the University’s undergraduate student population resides in states exempt from the order. Those not exempt from the order must complete and submit the online “Massachusetts Travel Form” upon arrival and will be fined $500 fine per day if they do not comply with the quarantine or testing requirements.
Baker’s order mandates that individuals may temporarily break quarantine to get tested, but they must resume quarantine until they receive a negative test result. To qualify for exemption, individuals must receive an approved test at their own expense, though BC will test all students, faculty, and staff at the University’s expense.
Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh, BC ’09, said in a press conference Friday that officials will be closely monitoring the return of college students, many of whom are returning from high-risk states.
Walsh said that while students’ return will benefit their education, the economy, and individual colleges and universities, he is concerned about the ramifications for the spread of the virus. Particularly in light of the recent nationwide increase in cases among younger demographics, Walsh said he expects college students to take the situation seriously.
“I would not advise college students to be having parties,” Walsh said. “I think that the colleges are going to be pretty strict with the rules and regulations. If I have to, I’ll use police.”
The University previously announced it would test all students beginning the week of Aug. 17, before students begin to move in the following week and start classes on Aug. 31.
The Broad Institute will analyze these tests and will provide results in six to 26 hours, according to Monday’s letter, which was signed by Executive Vice President Michael Lochead and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley. While students wait for test results, they will have to abide by strict protocols, including wearing a mask or face covering at all times.
The University previously told students they would only be allowed one person to help them move into residence halls to reduce density during move in. This week’s letter did not specify instructions for complying with the Commonwealth’s executive order for those assisting students with move in.
Dunn could not be reached for comment regarding whether the University will also test parents who come to campus for move-in and if students will be required to quarantine in a designated space on campus while they await their test results.
Airlines, bus companies, and train companies must provide passengers arriving in the Commonwealth with guidance on how to report their arrival and quarantine properly. Hotels and Airbnbs must inform guests of how to properly quarantine when they book accommodations and check in, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said at a press conference on Friday. Cars crossing state lines will not be stopped, Baker said.
Baker said he expects that compliance with the order will be mainly self-enforced, though contact tracers and local boards of health will be ensuring that people follow instructions.
“There are no shortcuts when it comes to containing COVID-19,” Baker said. “The honor system in Massachusetts has worked pretty well. … We cannot and must not let up now.”
Exemptions from Baker’s order also include people traveling through the state, commuting to work, traveling for medical purposes, complying with military orders, or working in essential services. The quarantine period does not preclude anyone from leaving the Commonwealth.
“Every traveler coming to Massachusetts, no matter where they’re from, has a responsibility to help keep COVID-19 out of the Commonwealth,” Baker said.
Monday’s letter, released about a month prior to the start of classes, also provided updates regarding contact tracing technology, campus transportation, and academics.
The University is finalizing an app for test scheduling, confidential results reporting, and symptom monitoring, according to the letter. Additional details on the app will be shared around Aug. 10.
BC added buses to the Newton and Commonwealth Ave. shuttle routes to allow for physical distancing on board, and it will implement comprehensive cleaning and sanitizing practices, the letter said. Limited bus operations will be underway beginning Aug. 3, and a full schedule will resume by Aug. 31.
In early August, the University will release a video showing how typical classrooms in Fulton, Carney, and Campion will be arranged in accordance with state health and safety guidelines, the letter said.
The letter noted that BC received positive feedback from student evaluations of online courses from the spring semester, but said that faculty have continued working to improve the virtual academic experience alongside the Center for Teaching Excellence, the Center for Design Innovation in Learning, and University librarians.
The letter also reiterated that residential students who test positive will be moved to University isolation housing, and those who live off campus must self-isolate in their off-campus residences. While in isolation, students should continue to attend classes remotely. BC Dining Services will provide infected students with food, and University Health Services will provide care.
BC plans to allow all undergraduates back to campus for the fall semester for a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online classes and extend through the final exam period—but other Boston-area schools are moving classes fully online or only allowing certain students to return to campus.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that only seniors would be able to take in-person classes during the fall semester, and Harvard University said classes would be held fully online, with only freshmen and select students allowed to live on campus in the fall. Boston University and Northeastern University both announced hybrid teaching programs that give students the option to return to campus or learn remotely.
Like BC, Tufts University announced it would welcome the entirety of its undergraduate population back to campus for a mix of in-person and online course modalities. Tufts students are slated to remain on campus through December, and the University has asked students to limit travel, including avoiding travel for Thanksgiving.
A June 30 letter sent as part of BC’s weekly update series instructed students to limit travel, particularly outside of Massachusetts, during the semester. BC has not mentioned its expectations for students’ Thanksgiving plans, though in a July 15 letter it said it will be “flexible” with the academic calendar, including the possibility that students would not return to campus after Thanksgiving and complete final exams remotely.
Featured Image by Maddy Romance / Heights Editor