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Update: BC Reports 32 Undergrad Cases of COVID-19 During Pre-Semester Testing

Boston College reported 32 undergraduate COVID-19 cases out of 8,723 tests during pre-semester testing, which took place from Aug. 16 to Aug. 29, according to a University release from Tuesday. There were 46 total positives out of the 15,878 total community tests, a positivity rate of .29 percent. 

As of Monday, 99.3 percent of the BC community has been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the release.

Doug Comeau, director of University Health Services, said in the release that the greater Boston area is less vaccinated than the BC community, so students should use caution when traveling outside campus.

[W]e urge our Boston College community members to use an abundance of caution when they go into public places­­—whether it be social situations, bars, restaurants, or other places outside of the Boston College community—to help protect themselves,” Comeau said. 

Comeau also said that BC will be flexible with its testing strategy, monitoring trends, and making adjustments accordingly. 

“We have an on-campus lab, but we also have external resources to test as frequently as we need to,” Comeau said in the release. “We still have daily 24-hour care at University Health Services where we can take care of any symptomatic patient, and we can perform a point-of-care PCR or antigen test, but also send further confirmatory PCR testing to our on-campus lab.”

There are currently 29 undergraduates in isolation, with 18 in isolation housing and 11 isolating at home. Six community members have recovered, including three undergraduates. 

When looking toward the future, Comeau said that he is optimistic about the decline of COVID-19 in the coming months, but he stressed it is difficult to predict a pandemic.

“Looking ahead to the next month or so, I believe that the overall COVID-19 positivity rate will go down,” Comeau said in the release. “There are other variants on the horizon, such as Lambda, which we will continue to monitor daily with the CDC, the Mass. Department of Public Health, and also local epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists, but I am optimistic for the future.”

The University is requiring masks in some indoor spaces on campus that are open to the public, according to the BC Forward webpage. The new policy follows the roll out of new mask mandates in the greater Boston area in response to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.   

The new requirement currently applies to public spaces on campus within the City of Boston, such as BC bookstores, the McMullen Museum, and dining halls when students are not eating or drinking, according to the website.

The requirements mark a departure from previous University policy—BC lifted its mask mandate, which had spanned the entire academic year, on May 28. 

The City of Boston announced on August 20 that it would be requiring masks indoors in public places for individuals over the age of two, according to a press release. The new policy officially began on Friday. 

Another similar mandate, which begins on Sept. 2, will require masks in public indoor spaces on parts of campus that lie within the City of Newton.

The arrival of many thousands of college students into the Boston metropolitan area was an important factor in these new mandates, according to Boston Mayor Kim Janey.

“The arrival of the fall brings an influx of more than 50,000 college students into Boston from all across the world,” Janey said. “In light of these changes among our population … we are implementing a number of proactive public health measures to future protect the people of our city.”

The new mandates, according to the BC webpage, do not extend to spaces such as residence halls and classrooms. 

“Fully vaccinated faculty, staff, and students are not required to wear masks on campus, but should feel free to do so if they prefer, including in offices and classrooms,” the webpage reads.

Professors cannot require students to wear masks in their classes, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Rev. Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. said in an email to majors and minors in the history department on Saturday.

“Faculty members are free to encourage or invite students to wear masks should students be more comfortable doing so, but it is not appropriate for them to require students to do so,” he wrote.

This came after an email went out to majors and minors in the department on Friday from BC’s history department asking students to wear masks in the department’s classes and offices beginning Monday.

“By wearing masks we look beyond ourselves and protect those who are immuno-compromised and children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine both in our community at Boston College and in the Boston and Newton communities that the university is a part of,” Prasannan Parthasarathi, professor and department chair, wrote in the email. 

The request is not a requirement, Parthasarathi said in an email to The Heights, but the department hopes that students will comply with it.

The math department announced it was requiring masks in its Maloney Hall offices in an email Saturday morning from professor and assistant chairperson Renato Mirollo.

Welkin Johnson, chair of the biology department and head of the Johnson Lab, said in an Aug. 12 interview with The Heights that students should be prepared for policy changes at any time.

“I think people should be prepared for the idea that rules could change on a moment’s notice,” Johnson said. “People tend to get frustrated, ‘Oh you said this last week and now rules are gonna change this week,’ but I think that’s how we have to manage this. The only other alternative would be to take extreme measures.”

All undergraduate students were required to get tested for COVID-19 upon move-in to their residence halls, according to the BC Forward website. Johnson said he thinks the testing conducted this week will help the University decide what direction to go in in terms of regulations.

“I think those numbers will … help the University to decide if they’re gonna have to do something right away,” Johnson said.

Update 8/32/21 6:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to include BC’s COVID-19 cases during pre-semester testing and information from a University Release published on Tuesday. 

Featured Graphic by Eamon Laughlin / Heights Editor

August 28, 2021