Close contacts of positive COVID cases who are fully vaccinated and meet certain criteria no longer need to quarantine
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 March 10 and 16, 64 students and 13 faculty and staff members 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 Gloria Waters and Judy Platt
The Brink: What new variants have been detected in the last week?
Waters: Although we had expected the B.1.1.7 variant, which originally appeared in the UK, would increase its presence at BU this week, it has not—its rate has actually gone down a bit. However, we still have a concerning number of daily cases and we know that with the B.1.1.7 variant’s increased transmission, it is easier for super-spreader events to occur.
Platt: At this time, there is no evidence of other variants circulating at BU. The B.1.351 variant that originally appeared in South Africa has not been seen at BU with the exception of one positive result that was detected in the first week we began variant sequencing earlier this semester. The P.1 variant from Brazil has not been detected at all here at BU.
The Brink: Governor Charlie Baker announced on Wednesday that all Massachusetts residents would be eligible for COVID vaccines starting April 19. What does this news mean for the BU community?
Waters: That’s only a month away and so we just have to hang on a bit longer. The vaccines are literally coming. Today is St. Patrick’s Day, typically this week students would be on spring break, and we have March Madness coming up. It’s important that, despite these occasions that would typically inspire socializing, our community continues to be vigilant and adhere to all protocols.
Platt: Understand that in Phases 1 and 2, it took several weeks for everyone to get their first shot, and those phases contained much smaller groups of people. Phase 3, the general public phase opening up on April 19, is the biggest phase with the most people, and so people should not automatically assume or expect to get an appointment time on April 19 or soon thereafter.
The Brink: Over 1,000 BU employees have already been fully vaccinated through BU’s vaccination site and other locations. Is anything changing for them in terms of campus protocols?
Platt: Fully vaccinated individuals—people who are at least two weeks out from receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or from receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines—who are identified by BU’s contact tracers as close contacts will not need to officially quarantine as long as they stay in communication with BU’s contact tracing and case investigation teams’ and do not develop any symptoms. If you’re named as a close contact, BU Healthway still wants to talk to you, to ask you to get tested more frequently, and to monitor whether you develop any symptoms.
We are continuing to learn more about symptoms and transmission in vaccinated individuals. We’re encouraging all students who have been vaccinated outside of BU, including those who have been vaccinated at BMC [BU’s teaching hospital], to upload proof of their immunization through Patient Connect. Employees who have been vaccinated elsewhere can email proof of their immunization to firstname.lastname@example.org—we are currently developing an upload feature for the employee portal.
The Brink: You said in earlier weekly reports that some people at BU who were not yet fully vaccinated had gone on to test positive for coronavirus despite having received their initial shot. What about fully vaccinated folks—has anyone at BU tested positive for COVID after the vaccination has been fully activated by their immune system?
Platt: Yes, we’ve had three people test positive for coronavirus, through BU’s routine, asymptomatic COVID screening program, after reaching their fully vaccinated status. That’s a very small number out of the more than 1,000 people at BU who have reached full vaccination status, but it goes to show that being vaccinated greatly reduces the risk of infection, but does not fully eliminate it. It also points to the need to continue to adhere to masking and physical distancing in most situations.
Waters: That’s why, even if you’re fully vaccinated, our public health protocols at BU are not changing. We still want everybody who’s coming to campus to be getting tested. At BU, we’re in a totally different ballgame from most of the country. We’ve been doing asymptomatic testing since August 2020, and we’re going to continue doing that for the foreseeable future. This is an important public health measure for BU—right now, only a small proportion of our community is vaccinated. Going above and beyond in our efforts to detect COVID infections and contain them within our community is why BU has been so successful in reopening, and we’re going to maintain that extremely high level of precaution and intervention through at least the spring and summer.
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.