Amid rising Covid-19 cases in Cambridge last week, more than a quarter of new infections in the city were students and other Massachusetts Institute of Technology-related people who also live here, the city health department chief reported Monday. Claude Jacob, chief public health officer, said of the 192 residents who tested positive between March 20 and March 27, “50 linked cases were past on the MIT campus.”
MIT also reported an increase in cases over the same period, and a spokeswoman said “the majority” of infections had occurred in graduate students at Sloan Business School. According to Jacob, the students gathered and traveled together. There was a similar outbreak among Sloan students last November.
In total, the institute reported 70 new Covid 19 infections last week. The university’s numbers are higher than the city’s, as Cambridge is only home to students, employees, and affiliates.
The university moved all Sloan classes to virtual learning on Thursday and closed school facilities on Friday. According to spokeswoman Kimberly Allen, all students should be tested on Thursday and the test frequency increased to three times a week. The school continued face-to-face tuition in two Sloan programs for all or part of that week, based on results from testing and contact tracing, she said.
Allen stressed that the institute’s percentage of positive tests remains low compared to the state and Cambridge, and the university maintains “good overall health and safety standards.” She quoted institute officials in charge of student life and the medical center as saying, “The vast majority of campus residents are doing their part by restricting unsafe activities and following MIT guidelines.”
Variants increase as a factor
While the institute was involved in the rising number of cases last week, Covid-19 variants pose a more fundamental threat, Jacob said. “Based on information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of [Public] Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the [city’s] Our department believes that the more communicable variant B.1.1.7 is likely to be a factor in increasing infection rates in Cambridge and across the Commonwealth, “Jacob said, referring to a variant first identified in the UK that was” a significant variant Threat to public health. “
A member of the city’s scientific panel estimated that the British variant accounts for 30 percent of new cases across the state, he said. The CDC has named five “questionable variants” because they are more transmissible and / or may affect the effectiveness of vaccines: B.1.1.7; B.1.351; P.1; B.1.427; and B.1.429.
Massachusetts has identified 441 cases of B.1.1.7; 16 cases of P.1; and nine cases of B.1.351 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The numbers are undoubtedly higher since the state genetically sequenced only about 1 percent of positive tests – the way to spot variants. Jacob said the state health department had notified Cambridge that there had been three cases of B.1.1.7 and two cases of B.1.351 among residents here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not give a number of cases for the other two affected variants, but do give their percentages of genetically sequenced cases: B.1.427 and B.1.429 made up 1.5 percent of the Massachusetts cases in February off said. In the notes of the last meeting of the Expert Committee on March 23, another variant was highlighted, B.1.426, which was classified as a lower risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but was identified as a problem by a member of the panel. (Meeting notes no longer identify the person who made a statement).
The B.1.426 variant, first identified in New York City, “could grow rapidly (perhaps even outperform B.1.1.7 by becoming infected again),” the notes read.
Wastewater sampling for variants
The city cannot request genetic sequencing specifically for positive test samples from its residents, Jacob told city councils. However, according to the panel of scientists, officials are considering joining an experiment that tests wastewater samples from the city for variants.
The city already has a contract with Biobot, the company that analyzes the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s wastewater for Covid-19, to test the city’s wastewater for the virus. Biobot has started looking for B.1.1.7, the most widely used variant, and is offering the service to its customers, the meeting notes read. “CPHD staff have expressed an interest in participating in these experimental variant monitoring efforts and will examine the value of a long-term commitment to their variant tracking efforts,” said the notes pertaining to the Cambridge Public Health Department Respectively.
According to comments, wastewater samples could reveal information other than the coronavirus. Biobot “has agreed to include Cambridge in a free wastewater monitoring test for opioids,” the notes read; They don’t say if the city will continue the experiment or when it will take place. The city could also have wastewater tested for “metabolic health,” an indicator of public health, the notes read.
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