coronavirus outbreak

Tufts President Calls on Massachusetts Colleges to Join Coronavirus Response

Now that students are gone, Tufts is readying dorms on its Medford campus, along with a 94-unit dorm next to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, to possibly house health care workers or patients who need to be isolated with mild symptoms of coronavirus

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Watching the news from Italy, Tufts University President Anthony Monaco says colleges and universities here should be doing anything they can to help respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“If there’s an overrun on hospitals, people have gone into makeshift tents, hallways, parking lots,” he said.

With the number of cases rising in Massachusetts, Monaco marshaled his university’s resources this month to help tackle the challenge of treating those who contract the disease.

Now that students are gone, Tufts is readying dorms on its Medford campus, along with a 94-unit dorm next to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, to possibly house health care workers or patients who need to be isolated with mild symptoms of coronavirus.

He says campus parking lots could be used for testing sites, dining halls can donate food and cleaning supplies and school labs could give hospitals extra personal protective gear and equipment.

College students in the Boston area are now scrambling to vacate as the coronavirus outbreak shuts down their campuses. But the short deadline is presenting some challenges for those who need to find a place to stay.

In one example, Monaco said the school’s veterinary hospital in Grafton recently sent the majority of its ventilators to Tufts Medical, giving the facility more capacity to aid the most seriously ill.

In an op-ed published in The Boston Globe Wednesday, Monaco called on other universities to follow his lead, laying out five steps he believes they can take now to aid the state’s response. 

They include identifying all residential units on campus that can be used for self-quarantine, preparing open spaces and gymnasiums to serve as field hospitals and tapping faculty with military, executive or government experience to advise school administrators about operations and communications during an emergency.

Italy has been hit hard by the coronavirus and has taken drastic measure to try to stop the spread. With the streets almost empty, the country's most famous landmarks look remarkably different without tourists.

At Tufts, Monaco asked military fellows and others at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to help with logistics challenges in the coming weeks.

“Their training and field experience with both military and civilian populations can be helpful in setting up campus operations during the outbreak,” Monaco wrote in the Globe.

The NBC10 Boston Investigators reached out to several dozen local colleges and universities on Wednesday to ask how they might participate in emergency operations.

Among those that responded, Harvard University said it is offering help from faculty who have experience managing large scale crises and disasters.

Suffolk University, Simmons University and Emmanuel College said they’re prepared to open residential buildings for use by hospitals.

“We’re still in the process of emptying our dorms, but once our students and staff are safely away, our dorm space is a way we can help as needed,” Laura Wareck, director of media relations at Simmons, wrote in an email.

At Emmanuel, staff have discussed making parking lots available to hospitals in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area for parking and drive-up testing sites, according to spokeswoman Molly Honan DiLorenzo.

“We are certainly preparing to make our buildings available for any and all additional emergency requests from the hospitals and the state,” she wrote.

The moves come as most Boston-area schools clear residential buildings to limit the spread of the new virus among students. The upheaval has forced thousands of undergrads to return home or find alternative housing as they participate in online classes for the remainder of the academic year.

Boston University student Frank Hernandez learned via email that the school planned to repurpose his apartment as a quarantine or isolation unit. Hernandez, a senior studying journalism, said he was away in Puerto Rico on spring break at the time, and his belongings were moved out before he returned.

“It’s just kind of unchartered territory here,” he told NBC10’s Ally Donnelly this week.

A BU spokesperson said the move was a precaution to create space for students who may need to be isolated. The school said it has not been asked by the state to make its dorms available to date.

At a press conference Wednesday, state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said she is discussing that concept with colleges and universities, which will each have a say in how their buildings are used.

“The universities are part of our planning process,” she said. “I’m not going to do it all by myself.”

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