Seventy-six students and 15 faculty and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to and throughout the February break. Dozens of students were placed in quarantine and isolation, but cases dwindled towards the end of break.

Morgen Bergman, associate provost for academic and strategic initiatives, told the Justice in a Feb. 28 interview that one main source of the outbreak was an off-campus party. Most of the positive cases came from individuals who attended this event and their close contacts who tested positive subsequent to being identified and placed into quarantine. Bergman acknowledged that the outbreak was significant, with many people testing positive, but also highlighted that the spread was contained, thanks to rigorous contact tracing and frequent testing. 

Positive cases decreased to smaller numbers towards the end of break, with 12 new positive cases the week of Feb. 20. Cases have increased this week, though the University expected an increase in cases during the return to school following all the travel that occurred in the February break. 

Bergman stressed that each individual needs to take responsibility for their health and continue to make good choices, especially as midterms are approaching. “Despite the enormous efforts of our faculty and academic support staff to help students, being in isolation or quarantine and having to make arrangements for tests to be conducted remotely or to join important classes asynchronously will make things more difficult.”   

96.7% of the Brandeis student body, as well as 95.6% of the faculty and staff, are fully vaccinated, according to Brandeis’ COVID-19 Dashboard. Bergman pointed out that through this latest surge, there have not been any severe cases of COVID-19 among students. The majority of positive students have experienced mild symptoms for a few days at most, she said.  

Bergman shared that the staff who support the COVID-19 testing and tracing program at Brandeis care deeply about the wellbeing of the students and work to support them through their isolation or quarantine period. She stated that staff and faculty from across the University work tirelessly to ensure that the needs of these students – academic, emotional, and physical – are supported. The staff always appreciates respectful communication about ways that improvements can be made or bringing to light problems that need to be addressed, she said.   

With the mask mandates being lifted around the country, state, and in Waltham, Bergman ended the interview full of cautious hope. “Right now, it’s an exciting time, but also a time to remain cautious and follow the data. We know how COVID spreads; we know how to prevent it. It’s important that each individual in our community takes responsibility to exercise common sense in keeping themselves and their friends healthy.”