With everyone eligible for COVID vaccines in Massachusetts, BU urges students, faculty, staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible
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 April 14 and 20, 42 students and 8 faculty and staff tested positive for coronavirus at Boston University. The Brink asked Judy Platt and Gloria Waters to answer a few key questions on COVID-19 at BU.
With Judy Platt and Gloria Waters
The Brink: What is the latest information from BU’s variant sequencing efforts?
Platt: Of the positive COVID test results at BU that have enough viral material to allow for variant sequencing, the percentage of B.1.1.7 cases is decreasing, pretty substantially, when compared to previous weeks. This week, however, we did detect one case of the P.1 variant [that was first detected in Brazil].
Waters: Despite the fact that we’re detecting variants of concern within the BU community, fortunately they are not turning into large clusters thanks to our frequent testing, tracing, and quarantining efforts.
Platt: On a genomic level [looking at the unique genetic code of positive COVID tests], we’re not seeing evidence of large clusters. We’re seeing small clusters of cases pop up and then get stomped out through routine testing and isolation of positive cases. Our recommendation that everyone at BU—students, faculty, and staff—add an extra weekly COVID test to their routine cadence has been helping us identify new cases sooner.
Is the arrival of the P.1 variant at BU significant in terms of the community’s health?
Platt: The more we know about what COVID variants are on campus, the better we can address challenges and the risk for transmission. Finding P.1 is not surprising—we expected that it was only a matter of time, since we know P.1 is here in Massachusetts and in the city of Boston. We do think it’s a good reason for everyone to keep up with their additional weekly test through the rest of the spring semester.
Waters: Now that Massachusetts has opened up its vaccine eligibility to everyone over the age of 16, it also underscores the importance for members of the BU community to sign up to get vaccinated if they have not done so already. There is some concern that vaccines might not be as effective against emerging variants, which is a very good reason to get vaccinated sooner to prevent the arrival of even more COVID variants. Each time the coronavirus transmits from person to person, it has another opportunity to mutate. The less chances the virus has to mutate, the better currently available vaccines can protect all of us from severe disease.
Platt: Even though we don’t have enough BU data yet to say exactly how variants impact vaccine efficacy in our own community, vaccines still provide good protection from more severe illness and it’s important that as many people as possible get vaccinated before new variants can overwhelm the population.
How many people at BU have been vaccinated so far?
Platt: Over 6,000 have either uploaded documentation that they have been fully vaccinated or have been fully vaccinated at BU.
Waters: For BU community members who haven’t yet been vaccinated and who have questions about the vaccines or how to schedule them, we’re going to be holding virtual town hall meetings at the end of April and beginning of May.
Platt: We want to help people navigate the vaccination process and provide helpful information—such as, what do I do if I experience side effects from vaccination? Employees, for example, can use some of the COVID-specific sick days allocated by BU to take time off and rest.
Waters: We plan to hold one town hall geared toward faculty and staff, and other sessions specific to students, who will be required to be vaccinated for fall semester. We’re still ironing out the details but will soon have more information to share about the upcoming town halls.
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.