• Kat J. McAlpine

    Editor, The Brink Twitter Profile

    Kat J McAlpine

    Kat J. McAlpine is editor of The Brink, Boston University’s news site for scientific breakthroughs and pioneering research. Kat has been telling science stories for over a decade, and prior to joining BU’s editorial staff, publicized research at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering. Profile

Comments & Discussion

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There are 25 comments on Boston University Weekly COVID-19 Report: September 23 to 29

  1. As winter comes, students can’t gather outside because it’s too cold so they’ll more likely resort to unsafe gathering practices and large groups hanging out at frat houses or in dorms… for everyone’s sake can we just listen to Mayor Walsh for ONCE

  2. Just remember, cases are not deaths. Also, the PCR test being used is notorious for false positives. In fact, its inventor Kary Mullis has stated that is was never intended to diagnose infectious disease and cannot do so.

    1. Hello Doreen, I am wondering where you are getting this information. BU is using the RT-PCR test in the lab and an Anterior Nares(AN) collection process. According to the AAFP, the RT-PCR test IS a diagnostic test and is highly specific (https://www.aafp.org/family-physician/patient-care/current-hot-topics/recent-outbreaks/covid-19/covid-19-clinical-resources/testing-guide.html). Further, Boston University deems that this is “the most accurate method currently available for detecting the virus that causes COVID-19” (https://www.bu.edu/president/covid-19-testing-protocols-and-compliance/).

      Lastly, according to FDA research on the specificity and sensitivity of the RT-PCR test, they found the false-positive rate to be <1%. These results were also true when self-collection was used. Look at pgs. 15-17 of the following report to validate my conclusions: https://www.fda.gov/media/136151/download.

    2. Death is not the only problem with COVID-19. Research is now showing that as many as 1/3 of people who are infected and show symptoms have continuing symptoms after the initial infection resolves. I had the virus in April and I still have decreased lung function and breathing problems.

    3. Wow, this one was a real doozie! Doreen I wonder precisely how you can use logic to convince yourself that the increase in “cases not deaths” holds weight? Last time I checked, we don’t have any new methods of treating these patients and the death count remains a lagging indicator for these cases. As has been explained many times before by many others – deaths lag increases in case counts by about two weeks (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/data-animation-shows-time-lag-between-covid-19-cases-and-deaths/).

      Further, and more worryingly, to your second point about PCR – do you know how it even works? For you to make a claim that the inventor has stated that PCR is not designed to, nor should be used to investigate infectious disease is also incorrect (https://in.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-pcr/fact-check-inventor-of-method-used-to-test-for-covid-19-didnt-say-it-cant-be-used-in-virus-detection-idUSKBN24420X). In fact, because I have a suspicion that you’re going to hold tight to this sinking ship of your grossly erroneous and frankly dangerous thinking, I’ll put his direct quote in here:

      “PCR is intended to identify substances qualitatively, but by its very nature is unsuited for estimating numbers. Although there is a common misimpression that the viral load tests actually count the number of viruses in the blood, these tests cannot detect free, infectious viruses at all; they can only detect proteins that are believed, in some cases wrongly, to be unique to HIV. The tests can detect genetic sequences of viruses, but not viruses themselves.”

      Context – it’s important. Mullis is stating here that PCR detects genetic sequences – not anything else. This genetic material must be free and naked. Viruses themselves aren’t just pieces of genetic material floating around in the environment – they wouldn’t be able to do anything if they were. They need a way to get into cells – so in their infectious form they are coated with proteins and carbohydrates in order to confer their entry into said cells. So no, in this specific use of PCR, you can’t estimate the viral burden, but you can determine if the virus is present or not.

      I encourage you to read the resources I have appended to this reply. Realize that you have the option to positively or negatively impact not only your own life, but the lives of your family and friends. Please do not add to the cost of this pandemic by providing misinformation.

    4. Sources on your claim, Doreen? Yeah, there’s none. Because you’re spreading misinformation.

      False positives? Never heard that one before! Just as an FYI, and this is coming from a biomedical scientist who does PCR tests in labs almost every single day, false positives are a sign that a test doesn’t work AT ALL. According to Dr. Pedro Piedra from the Baylor College of Medicine, who is one of their team leaders for their COVID detection and response unit, a false positive test is inherently flawed and should not be on the market at all. Any positive obtained with the RT-PCR test is actually a positive. and this is why we keep on re-testing if someone tests positive: to 100% make sure they’re actually positive.

      BTW the test that BU uses is one of the rather more accurate tests: RT-PCR. Accuracy levels are between 80 and 100%.

      @ the readers of this comment section, please make sure to READ SCIENTIFIC PAPERS AND OFFICIAL REPORTS so you don’t get caught in misinformation like Doreen is trying to spread. BTW, Doreen, that thought is falsely attributed to Kary Mullins, as shown by this Reuters article: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-pcr/fact-check-inventor-of-method-used-to-test-for-covid-19-didnt-say-it-cant-be-used-in-virus-detection-idUSKBN24420X

      or are you going to say that a world-renowned news agency is spreading fake news now? lol!

      What was meant by this quote was that the PCR test doesn’t detect how much virus exists, it just sees if the virus exists or not, which is what we care about. BTW, to identify how much virus exists, we do a quantitative PCR!

  3. This would be a good time to revisit BU’s policy decision that people who have been attending in person classes where other people have tested positive will *not* in general be informed as part of contact tracing efforts. FIVE professors from BU’s School of Public Health yesterday together published an article in Slate arguing that the science concerning aerosols tells us this type of policy should be rejected:

    https://slate.com/technology/2020/09/covid-6-feet-rule-update-social-distancing.html

    “At minimum, we recommend that everyone in the classroom with a positive case be notified so that they can be instructed to quarantine or they can decide to quarantine in order to prevent additional community spread of COVID-19. This would be good public health policy”

    Is the university now willing to revisit this policy?

    Will BU Today link to this article by five of our public health experts on the BU Today home page (as they often link to articles by BU professors)?

  4. The staff numbers should surprise no one. They are coming from all over, have families in schools, partners who work, etc. Staff should be tested weekly when they are coming in. A negative test from August does nothing to help keep COVID-19 off campus at this time. Staff who don’t directly interact with students can still go in elevators, campus building, etc. Please, it’s time to test staff more frequently than 1x a semester.

    1. Hello “Staff”, where are you getting your information. According to BU’s Testing Protocols (https://www.bu.edu/president/covid-19-testing-protocols-and-compliance/), staff/faculty in Category 1 and Category 2 are tested weekly. Only staff/faculty in Categories 3 and 4 and not tested weekly.

      Category 3 employees defined as: “Commuting employees whose job duties require very limited contact with students and who can control their contact with other employees so as to limit interactions to small groups of individuals with appropriate work environment protocols in place and minimal contact hours”. They get tested at the beginning of the semester, as they have extremely limited contact with anyone on campus. This is a very small pool of employees at BU.

      Category 4 employees are defined as: “Students, faculty, and staff who engage only in virtual learning, working, and other activities and events and who do not commute to campus”. They do not get tested, as they are never on campus.

      1. A category 3 can still visit many places on campus visits (the GSU, Buick Street Market, Starbucks, etc). They can park at Agganis and take an elevator. They may supervise 1s and 2s, share office space etc. Simply put, they can bring COVID to campus.

        1. exactly.

          and I still find it bizarre that Cat 4 employees don’t have ACCESS to BU testing at all. you would think they would want employees on their health plans (and presumably their family members as well) to be as healthy and proactive as possible.

  5. A continuing inaccuracy in this testing-those who are “positive” (though many are negative with a following PCP test) are not allowed to be tested for 90 days after their quarantining period. This makes no sense to anyone with an infectious disease background; either test regularly because you have faith in the test or do not bother testing (or only test those with high risk-public transportation users, undergrads, etc.). To someone above yes the false positivity is ~1% but when your actual infection rate is ~1% based on your test, your test is not valid.

    1. I believe that this was the CDC guidelines – PCR can detect the virus up to 90 days after infection, so there is no point in retesting. You will just continue to test positive.

  6. Oh the horror. Young people are congregating. What will they do next? Have fun? Go to a movie? It’s the end of the world as we know it! We must all hide at home and do nothing until there is no more virus. Cower in terror for at least 6 more months, a year, two, five, or at least until that buffoon Walsh tells us it is safe. I am older and in a much higher risk group than the average college kids and I would rather take my chances with the virus thanks.

    1. Selfish people like yourself are precisely the problem. If it were the case that you being infected only affected yourself, then I’m sure the mayor wouldn’t give a darn about parties. It is because you can actually infect others that is the issue. How great would it be if you got infected without showing symptoms and passed it onto you grandparents?! Please reconsider how self centred and irresponsible you sound.

    2. “buffoon Walsh” okay boomer, you’re so selfish. I wonder how your kids and grandkids would react once they read how much of a disgrace you are.

      to be honest, better be safe than sorry. If you’re willing to risk your life, so be it, we don’t want to risk ours and we want to do what’s right by our BU community.

      If you wanna take your chances with the virus, by all means, put on your boxing gloves and go into the ring with a virus that has high potential to make your short-lived days even shorter.

  7. I truly believe over 90% of students are following the protocols. There will be those who just won’t follow the rules no matter what you say. Maybe the University needs to start publishing the number of students who have been suspended or expelled due to violations and the circumstances surrounding those suspensions/expulsions.

    Names do not need to be mentioned due to privacy rights. Maybe then students will understand there are consequences to their actions.

  8. It appears from the data the bigger issue is staff testing positive rather than students based on number of positive results and percentage positive results for staff. Are staff being monitored to see if they are going to gatherings of 25 or more? Of course not, they have much more independence in their actions than the students and not surprisingly have higher positive numbers. But the students seem to be taking blame for increased numbers and it appears will bear any repercussions.

    1. It is more likely that the staff are not gathering in large groups, but belong to employee demographics that fall into one or several of the following categories: work in jobs that cannot be done from home (for example: dining services, student services, building services) and therefore must be in proximity to dozens or hundreds of people each day, take public transportation, live in areas of the city that are currently at yellow or red status in regards to positivity rates and therefore more at risk from exposure in or around their residence, etc etc. Their risk of exposure is higher in general.

      I don’t see blanket accusations against all students, blaming them for clusters, but there ARE documented reports of large gatherings of students in defiance of local ordinances and university rules, and these gatherings are how outbreaks start. Students who violate these rules should absolutely bear the repercussions, because their refusal to behave responsibly could bring illness, long term disability and death to people who have no relation to the university at all.

    2. Do you really think staff is, by and large, taking risks right now? When we will be the first ones laid off or furloughed if the school has to go fully remote again? Staff members live with other people who are also working, need to go to the grocery stores, have children in BPS, have to interact with and clean up after the University’s students… Those are the reasons that they’re contracting at a higher rate, not because they’re selfishly partying in an Allston apartment. Students won’t lose their livelihoods if the school goes remote, they’ll be inconvenienced. Staff will be enormously affected. Think before you speak.

  9. Really pleased with all the efforts made to try and live with the virus, adjust our way of life, and all the investments made by the school to give us as close to the full learning experience as possible. I’m hoping everyone stays vigilant, and BU doesn’t give up. There are some things I see that are questionable like the “public piano” which I can’t understand why I see someone playing it every time I walk passed. Some other little things I think we could do away with I start noticing quite often. I’m thinking there’s still more we can do to prevent spread, but again, the overall large effort to give me the most meaningful learning experience possible is something I’ll always be grateful for, and hope it continues.

  10. Very frustrating how the blame is being directed towards students when the positive rate for staff is nearly 5x greater. Student behavior is heavily regulated with punishment for rule breakers, shouldn’t the same rules be in place for staff?

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