By Grace Ferguson
Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok thinks colleges in Boston should teach fully remotely this fall. On Monday, she sent a letter to the presidents of Boston University and Northeastern University, explaining her proposal.
Bok represents Boston residents who live near the two colleges. The councilor said many of her constituents are seniors, people of color, and those with low income—all communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic. In these neighborhoods, students live right nextdoor to long-term residents.
“We already knew that these universities were totally embedded in our communities, and that all of our fates are mixed up together, but I think this crisis has made that especially clear on a public health front,” Bok said.
Bok’s ideas don’t stop at online classes. She wants to see colleges offer isolation units for students living off campus who test positive for COVID-19.
“To me, it’s backwards,” Bok said, “that for a bunch of the schools, the isolation housing is going to be available if you’re on campus and you test positive, but if you live off-campus you’re being asked to self-isolate, when we know our off-campus housing situations are much denser than these de-densified dorms are going to be.”
The councilor also wants colleges to crack down on large gatherings, and put more enforcement behind the governor’s travel quarantine order. Under the order, people arriving from high risk states are supposed to quarantine for 14 days, unless they test negative for COVID-19. Bok isn’t satisfied with the level of monitoring colleges have to make sure students actually comply.
“Students from out of state are people from out of state, right?” Bok said. “The governor’s orders should apply to them the same as if they weren’t studying at university.”
One of Bok’s main concerns is students bringing the virus into the city when they move in. In her letter, she writes that it’s one thing to control the virus once students are already in town, but “the greatest public health risk to Boston at the moment is the sheer influx of individuals from out of state.”
Bok said she sent the letter this week because she’s seen the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts—as well as the spikes across the country. She sees now as the latest possible time BU and Northeastern could change course.
“It’s such a delicate time, and we’re the only city in America that’s proposing to suddenly add 10 percent to our population, drawn from all over the country, in this very dense period,” Bok said. “And then, when you add to that the fact that the prospect for effective, isolated quarantine happening across the board seems slim, it just doesn’t strike me as wise.”
“Boston University is in close contact with Councilor Bok on testing protocols and public health best practices,” a BU spokesperson wrote in an email. “We will continue to work with the Councilor and her constituents to prioritize their health and safety along with the health and safety of the entire BU community.”