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Univ. surge of COVID-19 cases and campus policy updates

Since the university announced its easing of COVID-19 policy on March 3, there has been a significant surge of cases. This is shown in the most recent cases report according to the Brandeis COVID-19 dashboard: from the past week of March 20, there have been 133 positive cases out of 4,026 individuals who got tested. 

From the week of March 27, there were 13 positive cases from 555 individuals who got tested. The seven-day positive test rate as of the week of March 27 reached 2.3 percent at Brandeis, exceeding the overall positivity rate at Massachusetts of 2.02 percent. According to the dashboard, Waltham is labeled as a yellow zone, indicating its higher level of infection.

Currently, there are 50 students in isolation who tested positive and 81 students in quarantine who identified as close contacts according to the dashboard. According to the Brandeis Community Tracing Program, the number of students who tested positive and need separate quarantine housing has gone beyond the capacity of the designed quarantine housing of 567 South Street. There is currently a waiting list for the positive students who are in need of isolation housing. The BCTP would evaluate the urgency of the individual cases depending on the severity of symptoms, current residential situation and the timeliness of the positive result. Some urgent cases would be placed at the top of the housing waiting list, while others with milder symptoms would have to self-quarantine in their own dorm rooms. Due to the shortage of housing, even positive students living in a double and using a shared bathroom might still be quarantined in their original rooms.

According to the BCTP, all the positive students would receive daily phone calls to check in with their health conditions and symptoms. All the positive students would experience a quarantine period between five to 10 days depending on their recovery. As long as they have been cleared by the BCTP, they would be exempted from COVID testing for a 90 days period.

The University also addressed this surge of cases by indicating “we are currently experiencing the highest number of isolating and quarantining students at any point since COVID arrived”, according to the email sent out by Carol A. Fierke, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Stew Uretsky, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice President for Student Affairs on March 25. The University suspected that the cases spread among the students are the BA.2 variant of Omicron, which has a milder flu-like symptom but is more contagious and requires a longer quarantine period. 

The updated COVID policy makes wearing a mask a requirement again and requires everyone to obtain a green passport only to attend any indoor gatherings where food is served. Due to the high volume of cases, many indoor activities now only provide food on a grab-and-go basis. Some bigger classes and recitations are switched to online in response to the isolating students who are unable to attend in person and to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus.  

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