With COVID-19 cases rising, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put Suffolk County on high alert. As of Jan. 6, the CDC elevated Suffolk County’s COVID-19 Community Risk Level from medium to high. According to CDC reports, a new Omicron variant named XBB.1.5 is highly contagious and is spreading across the region, resulting in a surge of hospitalizations. More than 70 percent of new COVID-19 cases reported in New England are of the XBB.1.5 variant. 
Boston Public Health Commission has urged all residents returning from winter holidays to take necessary precautions and adhere to the CDC and Boston Public Health Commission guidelines. Some guidelines include getting an Omicron-specific bivalent booster, wearing a high-quality mask indoors and outdoors, taking COVID-19 tests after attending big events and gatherings, and getting an annual flu shot. 
Numbers related to hospitalization and COVID-19 tests are staggering. According to BPHC, as of Jan. 4, 306 new COVID-19-related hospitalizations were reported in Boston hospitals. BPHC’s COVID-19 testing also saw a 22 percent rise over a week, starting from Jan. 2. The City of Boston reported that only 13.7 percent of Boston residents received the booster, making many susceptible to the new variant. Additionally, the increasing number of hospitalizations due to viral respiratory infections like influenza has put a strain on Boston hospitals. 
“Based on the trends, it is imperative that we all protect ourselves and others. I understand there’s a very high level of pandemic fatigue, but the numbers speak for themselves,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, commissioner of public health and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. Dr. Ojikutu further suggested that residents practice masking and staying indoors when sick. In addition to all the necessary precautions, getting boosters are essential to reduce the severity of illness and hospitalization. 
The recent uptick in community-level cases in Massachusetts compelled some school districts and colleges in the Boston area to reinstate mask mandates and strict vaccine and booster policies before returning for the new term. In the wake of rising COVID-19 rates, Chelsea Public Schools and UMass Boston made it mandatory for students to wear masks indoors and in big gatherings.
Robert Pomales, Executive Director of University Health Services and Marie Bowen, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, sent an email to the UMass Boston students informing the reinstatement of the mask mandate effective immediately as of Jan. 9. The email further stated that while the campus transmission rate remained under control due to a large number of vaccinated students, the college would continue to use masks to prevent the situation from exacerbating. Given the current restrictions, classroom eating and drinking were not allowed. 
UMass Boston University Health Services has closely monitored the rate of COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County. A follow-up email was sent by Pomales and Bowen, lifting the mask mandate effective immediately Wednesday, Jan. 18. According to CDC Community Level Data, the community transmission rate has fallen from a "high" level to a "medium." Masks are not mandatory anymore but are highly recommended for indoor spaces. The student body is encouraged to monitor any developing symptoms and utilize University Health Services for antigen tests. No-cost COVID-19 booster shots and testing are available at University Health Services in the Quinn building. Students and staff can book an appointment through My Health Beacon.
“We extend a heartfelt thank you to all our students, faculty and staff for your continued vigilance in keeping our community safe,” said Pomales and Bowen in the email sent on Jan. 9. 
Vaccine Policy throughout the campus remains intact. Students living on campus or attending in-person classes must have vaccine proof except for religious and other medical exemptions as stated by state and federal law. Students are also required to have boosters throughout the Spring term when eligible. Additional information about the campus COVID-19 policies can be found on the UMass Boston COVID-19 website.