BU still seeing daily cases, but numbers are not increasing as they have in previous weeks
Boston University publishes 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, provide a weekly update on the overall health of the BU community.
Between February 24 and March 2, 82 students and 10 faculty and staff members tested positive for coronavirus at Boston University. The Brink asked Gloria Waters and Judy Platt to provide an update on all things COVID-19 at BU: how the community is doing overall in terms of its health, what’s the latest news on vaccinations at BU, what are the latest stats revealed from BU’s new variant sequencing initiative, and more.
With Gloria Waters and Judy Platt
The Brink: Considering the number of new cases this week and from what you’ve learned through BU’s contact tracing and case investigation teams, how is BU doing?
Waters and Platt: Right now we’re in a holding pattern. We’re still seeing daily cases, but the numbers are not increasing like they were in previous weeks. We really need people to continue to wear masks and to socially distance when mixing outside of their households, as this is one of the common places where we have seen spread.
The Brink: Since our last report, how many additional positive samples have had enough virus material to be sequenced at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories? What have the results of those sequencing efforts been—what strains, how many, any notable trends you’ve noticed?
Waters and Platt: We had just over 50 samples sequenced since last week and we are continuing to see the B.1.1.7 variant (first detected in the United Kingdom). This week we had 13 cases of that variant. No other variants of concern were identified in these samples.
The Brink: We know that Massachusetts will stop sending vaccines to universities for the foreseeable future. But folks who already received their first dose from BU will still be able to get their second dose through BU. How’s that process going?
Waters and Platt: Many sites have had difficulty receiving their second doses right at the 21- or 28-day mark, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine up to six weeks after the first dose is acceptable. BU has been extremely fortunate, and we have vaccine for our second dose clinics this week.
The Brink: Do you have recommendations for how people can seek out vaccinations on their own?
Waters and Platt: We encourage everyone to receive vaccine when their phase arrives by any means possible—through BU or at a public vaccination site. A good place to start is https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/, but you need to check back regularly as appointments open up on a rolling basis. We are hopeful that everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine will do so. With the announcement of the partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck, we hope that vaccine supply will start to increase soon.
The Brink: When you think about BU’s COVID surveillance and mitigation efforts, what are you watching most closely?
Waters and Platt: We are very closely watching clusters as well as the percent of close contacts who end up turning positive after being exposed to someone with the virus. As variants continue to be identified both at BU and across the country, everyone is watching to see what will happen to the number of cases, given the concern for increased transmissibility with certain variants.
Gloria Waters has spearheaded teams of BU scientists in their development and deployment of a campus-wide COVID-19 testing program and mathematical modeling of community behavior. Judy Platt, chair of BU’s Medical Advisory Group, oversees clinical management and isolation of students and employees who test positive for coronavirus, and helps manage BU’s contact tracing efforts. They are co-chairs of BU’s Vaccine Preparedness Group, which is overseeing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines allocated to BU by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.