Joint Statement from Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn on Tufts University’s Reopening Plan

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Today Mayors Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville and Breanna Lungo-Koehn of Medford sent the following letter to Tufts University President Anthony Monaco regarding the university’s reopening plan:

On behalf of the cities of Somerville and Medford, we write to reiterate our serious concern about the University’s Fall 2020 campus reopening plan, particularly in light of the recent uptrend in daily confirmed COVID-19 positive cases and transmission rates in Massachusetts and the Northeast in the last month. As we write this letter, 320 new cases and 12 new deaths have been reported in the Commonwealth. Additionally, given the lack of reliable testing available regionally, statewide, and nationally at a scale that would allow for an accurate assessment of prevalence and incidence, it is very likely that the true number of infections that remain undetected is far greater. While we acknowledge that, despite the University’s participation in our communities’ spring-time lockdown and continued summer-time social distancing efforts, a complete suppression of viral transmission is impossible, we ask that you reconsider the reopening plan that was developed under a previously reported set of health data and circumstances and ask that you, at a minimum:

1. Thoroughly reassess the Fall 2020 reopening plan through a peer-review process;

2. Reduce student population size both on- and off-campus;

3. Stagger the return of students. In particular, delay the return of in-region students both on and off campus while refining protocols and procedures, and enforcement measures, for students returning to the area in the first phase of your reopening plan;

4. Consider providing increased onsite faculty and staff testing comparable to student testing requirements;

5. Clarify off-campus enforcement protocols including any related follow-up, disciplinary action, health screening, and testing;

6. Reexamine and clarify student and faculty mobility protocols on and off-campus; and

7. Provide detailed testing process/protocols, contact tracing plans, daily data matrix, and de-identified enforcement/violation data to both Somerville and Medford.

We ask you to reconsider your reopening plan and provide greater clarity on specific protocols because of overwhelming evidence regarding transmission rates, asymptomatic infections, lethality, and the impacts of the virus in densely populated communities, such as Somerville and Medford. We believe we are at another critical juncture in this ongoing and evolving crisis, where decisions that can markedly impact the transmission of this virus must be taken. A recent New York Times survey, prior to the start of a new academic year, indicated at least 6,600 cases were tied to about 270 colleges over the course of the pandemic. Despite months of planning for a safe in-person return to class, and corresponding drastic changes to campus life, the virus is spreading widely at universities. We are concerned that inviting students to return so quickly and without a more careful staggered approach, without proper time for assessment and necessary adjustments, will significantly increase the risk of transmission in our communities and catalyze a potentially unmanageable increase in infections as we enter the fall and winter seasons. Tufts students, staff, and faculty are an integral part of both of our communities and our ultimate goal is a safe resumption of the University’s operation that balances all of our community members’ needs.

The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented disruption for institutions of higher education and host communities alike. We deeply appreciate your significant efforts to keep students, employees, and the larger community safe. We also very much appreciate Tufts’ exceptional partnership with our communities since the start of this pandemic. Early in the pandemic, the University provided Medford and Somerville use of its dormitories to house quarantined police and fire personnel, which provided safety and peace of mind as we continued to provide essential services. We also thank you for the transparency and collaboration you have committed to in developing your school’s reopening plan and for hosting a community meeting to address the concerns of Somerville and Medford residents. Despite everyone’s best intentions and efforts to keep the spread of this virus low, and because of the ever-evolving nature of this virus, we remain concerned that the plan in its current form does not fully account for the immediate, increased risk posed to Somerville and Medford residents by the return of thousands of Tufts students to our communities.

We hope that we can continue to use the avenues of communication and goodwill between your institution and our communities to reach an agreement that reflects our respective needs to keep students and residents safe.

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