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BC Represents One-Fifth of Mass. Higher-Education Cases in New State Data

Boston College COVID-19 cases accounted for at least a fifth of the total confirmed cases associated with higher education institutions in Massachusetts in new state data released on Wednesday. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is now providing data on COVID-19 cases identified through testing by Massachusetts colleges and universities in its weekly public health reports.

The state reported that there had been a total of 499 confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with higher education as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday.  At that time, BC’s COVID-19 dashboard reported that 104 total BC community members had tested positive through Sept. 11. 

BC’s dashboard reported Thursday that 122 BC community members had tested positive through Wednesday. Eighty-five undergraduates were in isolation, and 35 had recovered as of Thursday.

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College announced this week that it would be hosting webinars between students and administrators over the next few days, with the first held Thursday and directed toward freshmen. 

After a spike in cases last week prompted concern from both students and local officials, Vice President for Student Affairs Joy Moore said at the webinar that BC has not set a point at which the University would send students home or otherwise adjust campus life to contain the spread of COVID-19. She said she believed that students would be given “plenty of advance notice” in the event of BC needing to close the residence halls.

Seventy-three undergraduates tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to BC’s dashboard, with 3.6 percent of undergraduates tested receiving a positive result. Twelve undergraduates had tested positive this week as of Thursday morning. The undergraduate positivity rate for the week was .66 percent on Thursday—a slight increase from .62 percent on Tuesday. 

Senior Associate Director of University Communications Ed Hayward told The Heights on Tuesday that BC anticipates conducting 4,000 tests this week, up from the initial 1,500 weekly tests it planned to conduct at the start of the semester. The University has performed 2,561 community tests this week, which leaves approximately 1,439 tests to be conducted before the end of the week.

The University explained to The Boston Globe on Wednesday why the cumulative total of undergraduate tests on the dashboard is greater than the sum of the number of undergraduate tests BC reports for individual weeks. Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said that the weekly figures represent unique undergraduates tested, while the cumulative figure represents the total tests administered to undergraduates.

Comeau said at the webinar that BC offers symptomatic testing 24 hours a day, seven days a week in UHS, and that students should call UHS to schedule a test if their daily self-check shows up positive. He said that if UHS representatives do not answer immediately, it may be because UHS does not have enough staff to answer all incoming calls at the time.

“Just continue to call back until somebody does pick up, and we will see you, we will evaluate you, and we’ll swab you to just make sure that you did not contract the virus,” Comeau said.

BC is still conducting testing with the Broad Institute, a Cambridge-based lab that conducts testing for colleges and universities.

BC is verifying some results from the Broad Institute in its lab in Higgins Hall, which is undergoing a certification process, Comeau said. Once the lab is certified, BC will be able to increase testing through the on-campus lab.

Comeau said he has been communicating daily with the public health departments in Newton, Boston, and Brookline for an “enhanced contact tracing collaborative.” Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the state’s contact tracing collaborative would now oversee BC’s contact tracing program after BC saw a spike in cases. 

Comeau said that a person is deemed a positive contact if they have been within six feet of someone who has tested positive for longer than 15 minutes within 48 hours prior to the test. 

“I know that people are scared that they may have come into contact with somebody with COVID,” he said. “If you do have concerns you have with that, you can certainly call University Health Services.”

Comeau said that it could be possible that students may forget to name individuals they have been in contact with, but if students think they were exposed to an individual who was positive, they can take initiative to obtain a test.

“If you even reach out to the person who you think is positive and say, ‘Hey, did you mention me?,’ or if you call University Health Services and say, ‘Hey, I think I really came into contact with somebody,’ we’ll bring it up with the contact tracing collaborative and the contact tracers,” Comeau said. “And then that way, we can see if you warrant getting a test for that.”

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

September 18, 2020