BROOKLINE, MA — A number of Brookline town officials expressed surprise at the news that Boston College would be housing students who tested positive for the coronavirus on its Brookline campus, peppering officials with questions Tuesday.
Some Brookline officials said they only heard of the plan through media reports recently.
"I'm disappointed that Boston College has not been proactive in developing a relationship with the Town of Brookline, and that we have to hear about these things through the press," Heather Hamilton the vice chair of the Brookline Select Board told Patch Tuesday.
Select Board Chair Bernard Greene, who went to Boston College law school, said he too wanted the college to be more proactive and quick in responding to the town's concerns.
He stressed to Patch that Boston College and the town's health department were in communication Aug. 28, and the department requested documentation of their use of Pine Manor College. On Sept. 9, the college sent a letter to the Brookline Health Department and laid out the institutional use of the facility in five pages. That was sent to the Select Board on Sept. 10, he said.
Officials said the first time the Select Board had conversation with the school came in the form of several Boston College officials making a last-minute visit to the regular virtual Select Board meeting Tuesday night. Boston College acquired Pine Manor College earlier this year. Boston College said one of its plans is to isolate students infected with the coronavirus on that campus in Brookline.
Although the school and Brookline Health Commissioner both said they began talking about the proposal in late August, Select Board John Vanscyoc blasted the representatives saying they should have reached out to Brookline leaders to have a conversation on this before it was made public.
The town is the latest to express concern and raise questions about the school's ability to keep potential outbreaks at the school from the surrounding community. Vanscyoc pointed to the off campus party that officials said they traced the latest cases to, saying that was not acceptable.
"You're kind of stuffing it off," he said. "The point is, you had all these months to figure out what to do about it and didn't do what was necessary to prevent this outbreak... That's the message we're trying to impart here."
School housing officials pushed back on that, saying students at every college and school would have coronavirus cases.
"We're going to have cases, but how we are going to manage them is what's going to be important," George Arey said, pointing to requirements for mask wearing, cleaning, social gathering on and off campus and discipline for those who broke the new rules.
The discipline is severe, he said. Students would lose an entire semester at school, including online studies.
"We're taking it very seriously," Arey said.
The school has a total enrollment of 13,000. Of the some 9,000 undergraduates, some 7,000 undergraduate students live on campus, while around 1,200 undergraduates living off campus. School officials said there are 6,000 graduate students, though it's unclear how many live off campus nearby. Brookline acting chief said the number of students in Brookline has centered around Cleveland Circle and been historically low.
Still, last week's outbreak concerned the board.
Although the positive test rate has dropped since last week at Boston College it was nearly 4 percent last week among undergraduates. Some 104 students had tested positive and of those 67 happened last week —nearly half of those athletes, including at least 13 members of the swim team. Most of the cases among athletes stem from an off-campus gathering.
While many greater Boston colleges have avoided the coronavirus outbreaks that universities in other parts of the country have experienced, Boston College has scheduled more in-person classes and called for less frequent surveillance testing for students. Students were required to get tested within the first two weeks of move-in, but not everyone was tested.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said during the weekend she was "gravely" concerned about the numbers and said the school should increase testing to weekly or twice-weekly. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has also expressed concern about the college's ability to control the spread of the virus.
"I was never tested" graduate student Emma Nash told the board. She missed her two windows for testing and a third option didn't materialize she said. She said walk-in testing on campus similar to Tufts, would make it much easier for students.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that the state is stepping up its Contact Tracing Collaborative efforts at the school.
As of Tuesday, 80 college students were in isolation, including 37 in isolation housing and 43 at home, according to the school's data.
Former Boston Police Commissioner and now campus police chief Bill Evans said campus police are stationed at the school to watch to make sure those in isolation stay in isolation. One student recently attempted to leave isolation, but he was sent home because of that.
When asked what the school was doing to keep the spread of the virus down, school officials said they were paying close attention to positivity rates among other things.
Evans said BC was working with the Boston Police Department, walking around the Boston neighborhoods in the evenings to make sure parties don't crop up. He said some students had been removed.
"There's been a firm message that if the kids don't obey, they're going to be removed," he said. "We won't tolerate kids not doing what we ask them to do."
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