City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who represents the normally student-heavy Fenway and Mission Hill, is urging the city's two largest universities to reverse course and not let any students come to Boston for at least the fall semester - saying the greatest potential risk to Boston is "the sheer influx" of people from out of state, many from places with far higher Covid-19 rates.
In a letter to Boston University President Robert Brown and Northeastern President Joseph Aoun, Bok - who herself teaches at Harvard - writes she's particularly concerned that the two schools are not paying nearly as much attention to keeping students who live off-campus from becoming super spreaders as they are to ensuring students who live in school-provided dorms stay safe.
No large city in America has the same scale of population swing as Boston in late August and early September. In this season of pandemic, that pattern poses a unique risk. We treasure our universities and all that your institutions contribute to our great city, from research to arts to the local economy. Your plans for the fall - in terms of testing capacity, dorm de-densification, cleaning protocols and public health messaging - reflect a great deal of thought. Yet the best "harm reduction" strategy at this juncture is simply not to encourage your far-flung student bodies to return to Boston this month. Furthermore, your institutional plans for off-campus students communities are concerningly weaker; the seniors and other vulnerable populations who live in these neighborhoods must not be put at such elevated risk.
Both schools have announced plans that include frequent testing of both students and staff - Northeastern says all students coming to Boston will have to undergo three tests in their first five days, even if from states not covered by Massachusetts restrictions. Both schools are also building their own high-capacity testing labs to analyze samples.
The two have also announced "de-densification" plans that include renting rooms in nearby hotels and apartment buildings, and have taken other steps to minimize the potential for student and staff crowding on campus.
Should the schools not suddenly reverse course and direct all their students to stay home, Bok says the schools should offer quarantine housing to all students who test positive while in Boston, even if they are living off campus and that the schools should crack down hard on any students who hold off-campus parties that violate state and city Covid-19 social-distancing guidelines.