Presence at BU of the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the UK, is diminishing as COVID clusters come under control on campus
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 24 and 30, 33 students and 13 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 Gloria Waters and Judy Platt
The Brink: How is BU doing in terms of COVID infections this week?
Waters: The numbers are coming down nicely this week, which is a different trend than some other universities in the region are seeing.
Platt: I’m hoping our COVID numbers will continue to stay down. The question is, how long will it be until the effects of spring break travel are fully revealed? In traditional times, spring break happens over the course of one week, but since spring break was officially canceled by BU, some students might opt to travel together at any time throughout this spring.
The Brink: What is the latest information about COVID variants at BU?
Platt: The proportion of BU’s positive COVID tests containing the B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the UK, is significantly dropping. We believe the majority of those variant cases were related to a few clusters here at BU, so as those clusters have come under control through contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation, we’ve been able to keep them from spiraling. It just goes to show how important routine COVID testing and dedicated case investigation and contact tracing teams are. It’s all about controlling the clusters through frequent testing and through our ability to associate cases that stemmed from one another. Our BU Healthway team is continuously working to identify clusters and keep spread minimized.
The Brink: With April 19, the date the Massachusetts general public will be eligible for COVID vaccines, fast approaching, how is BU preparing for mass vaccination of its students, faculty, and staff?
Waters: Even though BU is no longer administering vaccines [due to the state’s updated vaccine rollout plan], our Vaccine Preparedness Group is still really focused on vaccination. We’re exploring opportunities to help our community get vaccinated, perhaps setting up resources to help people make appointments or figuring out the best way for people to communicate their vaccination status to BU. We’re also planning ahead for fall semester, and determining what percentage of our population will need to be vaccinated in order for fall semester to be “back to normal.” How much different this fall is, compared to the current academic year, will be dependent on a very high percentage of our BU community being fully vaccinated.
Platt: We are talking with other universities and colleges about this—all schools are discussing how to help drive high vaccination rates among their communities. Rutgers University, for example, has announced vaccines will be mandatory for students, while staff and faculty are “strongly urged” to get vaccinated. We are waiting to see if the state of Massachusetts will make a recommendation on whether vaccines should be mandatory.
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.