2 Boston colleges mandate weekly coronavirus testing — even for vaccinated students

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Two Massachusetts institutions, Northeastern and Boston Universities, plan to periodically test students for the coronavirus this fall even if they are fully vaccinated.
  • The universities require on-campus students and employees to be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival and regularly after that. Northeastern said it would reevaluate its policy in October.
  • Although the pandemic has eased in the U.S., case counts are climbing again, and outbreaks are sweeping across some country’s pockets with low vaccination rates.

Dive Insight:

As many colleges prepare to relax safety measures and resume more in-person classes in the fall, Northeastern, and Boston’s universities offer an example of institutions keeping stringent testing policies.

Northeastern announced it would require weekly testing for on-campus students and employees. Boston University is doing the same for students and employees who interact with students in person.

Their plans come as some public health experts warn that coronavirus cases could rise again in the fall and winter. Government officials urge people in the U.S. to get vaccinated as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

Still, Northeastern and Boston’s testing strategy goes further than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

IN JUNE, the CDC updated guidance for higher education institutions, saying that colleges with fully vaccinated populations can resume in-person activities. It also advised that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to be tested for the coronavirus unless they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

However, the agency said that schools where not everyone has gotten the shots should continue using prevention strategies such as regular testing and mask-wearing.

Boston colleges

Leana Wen, a health policy professor at George Washington University, said more CDC guidance is needed on vaccinated students. “What we need to know is whether an asymptomatic, vaccinated (person) who tests positive can infect other people,” Wen said in an email. “If they can, testing is important; if not, then there’s no point.”

Although it’s not what the CDC recommends, the Boston institutions’ approach could provide information about how many vaccinated students are catching the virus and whether they are transmitting that infection to others, said Audrey Pettifor, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pettifor said an aggressive testing program could also make sense if campuses have large populations of students who’ve received vaccines not made with messenger RNA technology, used in both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines.

Recent studies have found Moderna and Pfizer’s shots still offer protection against coronavirus mutations. Still, concerns are growing that some other vaccines — including those from Chinese makers Sinopharm and Sinovac — aren’t as effective against the delta variant and require a booster shot.

Northeastern is mandating the shot for on-campus students. Officials noted that students are coming to campuses worldwide, where coronavirus case counts and vaccination rates differ widely. Several countries from which the U.S. draws large shares of international students, including India and South Korea, have populations where less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated.

The university recognizes any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization, but it said that students who’ve gotten other types of shots must be reinoculated.

“Our North Star is safety,” Ken Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning at Northeastern, said in a statement. “By testing, we will gather information to make the best science-based decisions possible.”

Boston University is taking a similar approach to coronavirus testing in the fall. And while it is also mandating the shots, it accepts any coronavirus vaccine for students, even those without WHO approval.

Related Posts