On Saturday, September 12, Newton Mayor, Ruthanne Fuller, released a statement expressing her concern with Boston College’s COVID-19 protocols – more specifically, their potentially dangerous inefficiency.
The BC and Newton communities are greatly intertwined, with students living on and off campus supporting many of Newton’s restaurants and small businesses. As such, Mayor Fuller and the Newton Health and Human Services (HHS) team want to work with BC to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and maintain the connection between the town and their collegiate neighbors.
The HHS met with BC officials and was accompanied by Boston’s Public Health Commission (PHC), the Department of Public Health (DPH) of Massachusetts, and Marylou Sudders, the Secretary of Health and Human Services for Massachusetts. Each expressed similar concerns over the BC administration’s handling of the recent outbreak.
These groups gave three requests to BC to try to offer assistance to the response. The first of these, mostly aimed at preventing further spread on campus, was that contact tracing for BC students be handed over to public entities, namely Newton’s HHS and Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) for students residing in Newton, and Boston’s PHC for students residing in Boston.
“While BC set up a robust system for case investigations internally, the CTC’s capacity, experience and comprehensive approach is needed at this juncture,” Mayor Fuller wrote. With more experience and resources, the CTC would be better able to prevent the spread of outbreaks both on and off campus and identify the sources of possible clusters. BC’s administration agreed to hand over contact tracing to these public entities.
The second request given to BC was to increase their testing capacity. In an email dated August 11 sent to the BC community, Provost and Dean of Faculties, David Quigley, Executive Vice President, Michael Lochhead, and Vice President for Student Affairs, Joy Moore, promised “extensive asymptomatic and high-contact, randomized surveillance testing” to be done weekly following move-in. Public health services do not, however, feel that the 2,900 tests conducted last week are extensive enough.
Additionally, they have requested that BC release a daily test count and publish the calculated percent of students positive for COVID-19. Even though BC plans to test between 3,000 and 4,000 community members in the coming week, Newton and Boston will monitor the results of these tests and “continue to recommend that Boston College adjust their testing practices and increase the number.”
Finally, Mayor Fuller personally came out against the expansion and addition of isolation and quarantine facilities in Newton. In her words, “BC should provide the quarantine and isolation facilities required for all on and off campus students on their own campus properties.”
With BC’s quarantine facilities for on-campus students quickly filling up, Mayor Fuller suggested “an alternative may be reducing the number of in-person students,” calling for BC to adhere to public health principles if they decide to pursue this option.
Mayor Fuller ended her statement by calling upon BC to take “swift, decisive and effective action now” to protect both the BC community and the Newton and Boston communities.
BC’s COVID-19 statistics are indeed very concerning compared to those of our neighbors and peers in the Greater Boston Area. Northeastern, for instance, has had 50 positive tests out of a total of 90,746; Boston University has had 91 positive tests out of a total of 96,499; Harvard has had a total of 37 positive cases out of 40,123 total tests. BC, meanwhile, has led her Boston neighbors with 104 positive cases out of 25,084 total tests – not exactly the recognition many were hoping for.
Indeed, many students on campus were very happy to hear that Mayor Fuller wanted to help improve the situation on campus. One student, who has requested to remain anonymous, chastised BC’s current plans, explaining, “Fr. Leahy and other administrators believe that the best way to compensate for their grossly inadequate testing plan is to gaslight their own students who they claim to be protecting.” They continued, stating, “It’s certainly sad that we’re finding ourselves in this situation, but I’m more than open to anything that might help us stay on the Heights.”
Mayor Fuller’s proposals certainly promise to fix the issue on campus, but it is now on BC to ensure they seize the moment and reverse course. BC can turn this embarrassment into a success story if they act swiftly, decisively, and effectively.