News, On Campus, Top Story, Coronavirus Updates

BC Sees Largest COVID-19 Case Spike Since Early September

The University reported 23 new undergraduate cases of COVID-19 out of 2,400 undergraduate tests, according to a Wednesday update on its COVID-19 dashboard, an undergraduate positivity rate of .96 percent. After only half a week of testing, this week’s total of 30 cases is the largest Boston College has seen since the week of Sept. 21.

The spike on Wednesday is the second largest increase in positive cases at BC this semester in a single update. The largest increase in cases the University has seen was during the outbreak in the second week of the semester, when the total number of cases more than doubled, prompting widespread media coverage.

The new cases bring this week’s undergraduate positivity rate to .78 percent, up from .58 percent on Tuesday. The seven-day average undergraduate positivity more than doubled from a week ago, jumping from .20 to .53 percent.

Students who test positive this week and those they list as close contacts must isolate or quarantine through the Thanksgiving holiday next week, according to an email from Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Formation Tom Mogan. Fifty-six undergraduates are currently in isolation housing after testing positive for COVID-19, the largest number since Sept. 19. The University does not disclose how many students are in quarantine for coming into contact with someone who has tested positive.

One student, Moises Doron, CSOM ’21, started a petition on Wednesday evening asking the University to offer a pass/fail option for the semester. BC expanded the pass/fail policy last semester after the University moved classes online in March.

“Many students struggle to focus when classes aren’t held in person, and fears related to the coronavirus only exacerbate this,” the petition reads. “Also, some students do not have access to computers or WiFi, and, even if they do, their internet and computer may not be able to handle the load of live video-chat sessions. Home environments for some students may not be stable, supportive, or distraction-free.”

The petition has garnered more than 100 signatures within six hours of its release.

Doron said in an email to The Heights that the challenges of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted him to start the petition, and he believes that he speaks for a large portion of the BC community. 

“We’ve been thrown into a new reality this semester, one that has taken a huge toll on the students,” Doron wrote in an email to The Heights. “Us students face anxiety and emotional struggles that have unquestionably hindered our education.”

Prior to the dashboard update, Mogan sent out an email to BC students on Wednesday afternoon asking students to follow COVID-19 protocols and reminding them of the consequences they would be subject to for violating them, though his email made no mention of the case spike.

“We are at a point in the semester where students cannot afford to let their guard down, particularly as it relates to their social activities,” Mogan wrote. “Please be reminded of the need to physically distance, wear masks, and refrain from behaviors that can contribute to the potential spread of COVID-19, as recent behavior has resulted in an increased number of students having to quarantine.”

Mogan also announced that the Office of Student Conduct has set up an online form and phone hotline for students to report violations of BC’s Thanksgiving travel restrictions, where students may choose to report anonymously.

BC is testing all undergraduates this week as many students prepare to return home for the Thanksgiving Break next week, according to a University release. The University previously told students that those remaining on campus or in Massachusetts for the Thanksgiving holiday may finish the semester on campus, but students who choose to travel out of state must complete the semester remotely.

Senior Associate Director of University Communications Ed Hayward said in a statement to The Heights that the increase is consistent with nationwide trends.

“The increase is consistent with all colleges and universities in the region and cities and towns across the country,” Hayward said. “We are testing all of our students this week and urge all members of the community to continue to follow public health guidelines and to maintain the discipline and cooperative spirit they have shown throughout this unprecedented semester.”

Of the 56 undergraduates in isolation as of Wednesday, 43 are in BC isolation housing and 13 are isolating at home.

The University also reported in its Wednesday update that it had conducted 103,051 total tests this semester, with 321 total positive cases, through Tuesday. These numbers include 76,305 undergraduate tests, with 305 undergraduate cases.

The spike in cases of COVID-19 at BC comes amid an increase in cases across the Commonwealth and in the Boston area. The Massachusetts positivity rate came in at 3.31 percent on Tuesday.

Boston’s positivity rate for the week of Nov. 6 through Nov. 12 was 9.6 percent, up from 7.9 percent the week before. According to last Thursday’s weekly state dashboard, Boston is in the moderate-risk category for COVID-19, while Newton is in the low-risk category.

Boston reported an average of 23.1 daily cases per 100,000 residents between Oct. 25 and Nov. 7—up from 18.4 in the previous two-week period. Newton reported 6.2 cases per 100,000 residents during this same period, up from an average of 5.6.

This article has been updated to reflect a statement from Senior Associate Director of University Communications Ed Hayward. 

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

November 18, 2020