Now that Boston University is publishing its COVID-19 testing data on a public-facing dashboard, Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research, and Judy Platt, director of BU Student Health Services, are providing a weekly update on the overall health of the BU community.
“We knew this was going to happen-we expected this,” Judy Platt says.
Boston University’s Clinical Testing Lab is detecting a fresh uptick in coronavirus cases linked to Thanksgiving travel. Between November 25 and December 1, 46 students tested positive for coronavirus, as well as 28 faculty and staff. On December 1 alone, 26 members of the BU community received positive test results.
“It’s so critical now, during this surge, for people to be as forthcoming as possible,” Platt says. “When the call comes in from contact tracing, we need people to answer quickly and disclose all their contacts. We still have the ability to control this.”
Platt says BU’s contact tracing is seeing many cases associated with Thanksgiving travel. “Most of the close contacts being reported are people from outside of BU residential households,” Platt says. People who traveled for Thanksgiving likely spent time with people outside their typical household, and may have not been wearing masks-especially during a holiday full of eating and drinking.
“We want to stress the importance of wearing a mask,” Gloria Waters says. “If you’re taking off your mask around other people, that’s most likely how you’re going to end up getting infected or infecting others.”
Waters says students should make sure their Learn from Anywhere status is current so BU can properly calculate the campus community’s compliance with its coronavirus surveillance program.
This week, everyone at BU is being asked to take an extra coronavirus test in an effort to identify positive cases early and isolate the infected. Undergraduates, who typically test twice per week, should seek out three tests per week. Graduate students, faculty, and staff should increase their weekly test by adding one more, for a total of two. Even Category 4 students, who do all of their schoolwork remotely and are not typically tested regularly, are asked to come to campus to take a coronavirus test to help quell the spread of the virus among off-campus student households.
“We’re offering testing to Category 4 students and already more than 750 of them have come in to get tested since Thanksgiving,” Waters says. “That option is still available for fully remote students.”
Waters is also encouraging BU faculty and staff who work in research laboratories to be extra vigilant about following COVID-19 protocols. She says anyone who sees safety issues in the lab-people not wearing masks, not maintaining social distance, or other measures-should report those concerns to a PI, lab head, or department chair.
Although 56 students are currently in isolation housing with active cases of coronavirus, Platt says BU is in a good position to accommodate more cases if they should occur. “We’re right where we expected to be coming out of the Thanksgiving week,” she says. “Most new cases we are seeing are [in people who] went outside the BU bubble and are now testing positive.”
Platt says BU is in contact with other universities and that the increase in coronavirus cases is not unique to BU. “Other schools are seeing higher numbers, as well,” she says.
With only a few weeks left until the end of the semester, Platt adds that curbing the spread now is critical to make sure that the bump in cases related to Thanksgiving is contained before students depart campus again for winter intersession.
“Nobody wants to be in isolation or quarantine over intersession,” Platt says. “But people are planning to travel again soon, and we don’t want the coronavirus spreading further when people leave campus. There’s a dual public health role here, preventing spread within BU’s community and to keep case counts as low as possible in anticipation that people will soon leave the area for intersession.”
“Get your extra test this week,” she adds. “It will help keep this surge as manageable as possible.”
Gloria Waters spearheaded teams of BU scientists in their development and deployment of a campus-wide COVID-19 testing program and chairs the Community Health Oversight Group, which scrutinizes BU’s testing data each day. Judy Platt, a member of BU’s Medical Advisory Group, oversees clinical management and isolation of students who test positive for coronavirus and helps manage BU’s contact tracing efforts.