Governor Charlie Baker shares updates to Massachusetts’ COVID-19 policies
Life at Brandeis will continue to change as state and federal governments update COVID-19 guidelines.
The Baker-Polito administration announced changes to Massachusetts’ COVID-19 guidelines on Feb. 8. The changes were made following an overall decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state. In November, when the state implemented stricter guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, Massachusetts had a positive test average of approximately 5.94% for a data collection period of seven days. As of Feb. 18, the rate of weekly positive cases was 2.13% in Massachusetts and 1.18% in Waltham. The number of active cases, hospitalizations and deaths has also declined over the past weeks.
Despite these encouraging trends, it remains unclear whether the number of cases will remain low in the weeks to come, especially as new, more infectious coronavirus variants continue to spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement in mid-January warning Americans about the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom. Per the statement, “the new strain could cause more than half of new infections in this country by March.”
At Brandeis, rates of positive cases have remained low, according to the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard. On Feb. 18, one student was currently in isolation and three were in quarantine, with a seven-day positive test rate of 0.04%. Brandeis has followed all of Massachusetts state guidelines in determining on-campus activities, residential life and academic affairs.
As Gov. Charlie Baker continues to release information about Massachusetts’ approach to the pandemic, the expectations for students, staff and faculty on campus may change, bringing new opportunities or limitations to those living on or frequenting campus.
One of the biggest changes announced by Baker earlier this month concerned indoor dining. Beginning Monday, Feb. 8, restaurants were once again allowed to operate at 40% capacity, not counting staff members. Since the state is still on Phase III, Step 1, of its reopening plan, dining remains limited to a maximum of six individuals per table and a 90-minute cap on stay time. This policy change comes as a relief for many local restaurants that have been impacted by the strict limitations imposed since the end of last year, as well as by the harsh winter conditions that make it difficult to offer outdoor dining options.
Indoor dining at Brandeis was prohibited when the semester began, a major difference from fall 2020. The tents that the University had rented in the fall to allow for outdoor socialization and dining were removed due to the cold weather, which left students with limited places to eat on campus. Following Baker’s statement, however, Brandeis resumed indoor dining at Sherman, Usdan and the Shapiro Campus Center, per a Feb. 16 email from Dan Kim, senior vice president of Communications, Marketing and External Relations. This is welcome news for many students on campus, especially now when seasonal depression and additional stress caused by the pandemic have increased feelings of loneliness and sadness.
While mask-wearing policies have not changed in Massachusetts, Brandeis has updated its website to reflect the types of face coverings that are not allowed on campus. Current state guidelines require all individuals over the age of five to wear face coverings in all public locations, both outdoors and indoors. Similarly, Brandeis requires all individuals on campus to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times, except when “in a private office when working alone with the door closed; In your own residence hall room, or when attending to personal hygiene (masks must be worn in the hallway between your room and the bathroom); When performing specific research techniques that have been detailed in an approved protocol. and While eating or drinking in approved areas while maintaining physical distance from others,” per the website. Brandeis no longer allows any face coverings with valves, plastic face shields alone, bandanas, scarves or gaiters, as these have not been proven to reduce rates of transmission, per a Feb. 11 email sent by Kim.
A new CDC report published on Feb. 10 stressed the importance of wearing masks that fit tightly around the face to prevent any air droplets from entering or escaping through gaps around the edges of the mask. The report also shared that using cloth covering over a disposable medical mask significantly reduced the rates of transmission and infection. The recommendation is based on data collected as part of several experimental simulations conducted in mid-January. Since then, the CDC has updated its website on mask recommendations, now advising that individuals choose a mask with a nose wire (to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask), use a mask fitter or brace (to maximize tightness around the face), add layers of material (either pair a cloth mask and a surgical mask or use a cloth mask that has multiple layers) and “knot and tuck” ear loops of 3-ply masks.
When it comes to double masking, the CDC does not recommend using two disposable face masks or a cloth mask over a KN95 mask because both of these masking options provide enough protection on their own. Brandeis has not made it a requirement for individuals on campus to wear two masks or masks with filters. Instead, they have left it as “an option each individual may want to consider employing for additional protection,” per the COVID-19 response website.
As of Feb. 20, approximately 42.8 million Americans have received one dose of the vaccine, and 17.9 million have been fully vaccinated. President Joe Biden made it a goal to administer 100 million doses of the vaccines in his first 100 days of office, which ends on April 30. On Feb. 11, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense purchased an additional 100 million doses, which brought the total number of vaccines purchased by the federal government to 600 million, enough to vaccinate most of the U. S. population.
Despite the fact that Moderna is manufacturing the majority of its vaccines in its Cambridge headquarters, Massachusetts currently ranks 27th in vaccine distribution, behind Missouri and Minnesota. On Saturday, the state government reported that one million people had received the first dose and approximately 372,000 had been fully vaccinated. As of right now, the state has completed Phase I of its vaccination plan and has started Phase II, which allows individuals over the age of 75 (Group 1), as well as individuals over the age of 65, those with two or more medical conditions, and residents and staff of low-income senior housing (Group 2) to receive the vaccine. There are two remaining groups as part of Phase II of the program, after which the general public will be able to access vaccine doses. Phase III is expected to begin in April of 2021.
Brandeis announced on Jan. 29 that it did not have access to the vaccine given that most students, faculty and staff would only be eligible once Phase III began. Per the email sent to the Brandeis community, the University’s “Public Health Advisory Committee, Health Center and others are carefully watching the state rollout, partnering with local health providers, and advocating for getting members of our community access to vaccinations as quickly as possible.” Student and staff first responders received the vaccine as part of Phase I of Massachusetts’ plan. No other updates about this matter have been shared.
The Baker-Polito administration extended the gathering limits set on Dec. 26, which state that all indoor gatherings must have no more than 10 individuals, and all outdoor gatherings must have no more than 25 individuals. Brandeis currently shares the same policy for all on- and off-campus events. Additionally, Brandeis prohibits all gatherings of six or more people within residence halls and asks that all students remain masked and practice social distancing when outside their rooms. No more than two Brandeis guests per person are allowed in dorm rooms. As of now, no outside guests are allowed. For people living in singles, that means only three people are allowed to be in the room at the same time. For those in doubles and suites, there is a five- and six-person occupancy limit, respectively.
Life on the Brandeis campus will continue to change as public health guidelines continue to be updated. It is unclear what the rest of the semester will look like, though it is very likely that mask wearing and social distancing will remain in place even after vaccines are distributed.