As COVID-19 becomes endemic, Tufts transitions into new phase of public health response

Elin Shih / The Tufts Daily
The entrance of the Covid-19 Testing Center, located at 62 Rear Talbot Avenue, is pictured on Sept. 19. Elin Shih / The Tufts Daily
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As the Tufts community returns to campus and adjusts to the fall semester, the new school year brings new guidance surrounding COVID-19 protocols. All eligible Tufts community members are required to receive a bivalent COVID-19 booster shot by Dec. 2, as announced in a Sept. 16 email from University Infection Control Director Michael Jordan and Medical Director of Health Service Marie Caggiano.

The university will be offering vaccine clinics for the bivalent booster and the influenza vaccine. The new booster aims to address currently circulating strains of COVID-19.

“The updated (bivalent) booster is designed to protect against two strains of a virus in a single shot versus one strain with the original monovalent vaccine,” Jordan wrote in an email to the Daily. “The bivalent booster provides protection against the two omicron sub-variants which are currently the predominant circulating viral strains.”

All on-campus booster clinics are fully booked, as announced in a Sept. 19 email from Jordan. More clinics will be added in the future.

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“We will be adding more booster clinics and expanding hours to the extent possible. New clinic dates will be posted on go.tufts.edu/COVIDvaccine as soon as we schedule them,” Caggiano wrote in an email to the Daily. “If students are unable to visit one of the Tufts clinics, they can schedule a booster appointment at a local clinic or pharmacy.”

Regular COVID-19 testing is no longer required, although Caggiano reminded students that they can still test on campus under certain circumstances.

“Testing is available for people who have symptoms or those who have had close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19. Asymptomatic, surveillance testing is not being offered,” Caggiano wrote.

The university’s COVID-19 dashboard, which displayed the number of active cases in the Tufts community, was retired when surveillance testing ended in May. Jordan noted the reasoning behind the change.

“As the pandemic moves to an endemic phase and vaccination is widely adopted, a dashboard is no longer necessary — we know that cases are and will continue to be present in our community on an ongoing basis,” Jordan wrote.

Still, the university wants to keep track of how many students have COVID-19.

“If you receive a positive test result from your primary care physician, home rapid antigen test, or another entity outside of a Tufts testing site, you are asked to report it at go.tufts.edu/COVIDpositive,” Jordan wrote.

Another change from last year, announced in the Fall 2022 COVID Protocols for Students on Aug. 10, is that Tufts will not notify faculty of when their students are sick.

 “Students are responsible for letting their faculty know when they are in isolation (faculty will not be directly notified),” the email announced. “Faculty have been asked to be as flexible as possible in helping you keep up with your coursework while you are isolating.”

Richard Townsend, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Computer Science, has tried to offer flexibility to his students this fall. Townsend teaches CS-11, which had 334 students enrolled as of Sept. 19. He has used his experience teaching during 2020 to inform his current policy for students who can’t attend class.

“Over the summer of 2020, I actually developed an online version of CS-11 for our online CS Master’s program,” Townsend wrote in an email to the Daily. “The content covered in those videos still aligns almost exactly with what I’m covering in the in-person lectures this semester, so I release these 2020 videos on the same day that I give the corresponding lecture in-person. Students who have to miss class due to illness can watch these videos and stay up to date on class content.”

Class recordings were one way that Vance Boyd, a sophomore, was able to keep up with his classes while sick with COVID-19.

“I had a chem lab … which I obviously couldn’t go to because I had COVID … And [the teaching staff said], ‘Okay, No problem. Just watch the recording of the lab,’” Boyd said.

Jamie Kirsch, a senior lecturer in the music department and the director of choral activities at Tufts, noted that it is important to be physically present in choral classes, which poses a challenge for sick students.

“Choral singing is a group, community activity, to be shared,” Kirsch wrote in an email to the Daily. ”In my classes I hope that students will learn as much or more from each other as they will from me; so any time an illness prevents students from being together, it means they lose some of that valuable time together.”

Marie Manassee, a junior studying English, similarly found when she was sick with COVID-19 that recorded lectures were an unreliable substitute for in-person classes.

“A lot of my classes are discussion-based,” Manassee said. “In order to really get the most out of any of my classes, I feel like I have to be there in person.”

Boyd had a different experience balancing sickness and schoolwork last year.

“I think last year it was definitely easier in some ways in that most of my classes last year had zoom options and stuff like that,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem to be the case this year.”

In the absence of surveillance testing, it is now possible for positive tests to go unreported to the university.

“I found out recently, when I tested positive, that one of my very close friends did have [COVID-19] and didn’t tell anyone,” Manassee said. “[Tufts] trust[s] that people either quarantine or not quarantine as they see fit, which clearly … is not the most reliable source” 

Manassee attributes this behavior to the relaxed restrictions.

 “I think a lot of people think that because … we’ve lessened restrictions that [COVID-19 is] kind of gone, which, until I got it, I kind of thought so too,” she said.

The Sept. 16 announcement reminded community members that although requirements have changed, the pandemic is not over.

“SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, is becoming an endemic infectious disease, and we continue to see new cases on our campuses,” Jordan and Caggiano wrote. “Please do not delay getting your COVID-19 bivalent booster and influenza vaccinations.”

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