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Virus cases balloon at UMass

  • A student walks through the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Area at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.



Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts has surpassed 300 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, with more than 80 of those cases logged in the last week of reported data.

The university has reported 315 positive cases between Aug. 6 and Nov. 13, with 137 cases recorded this month. Eighty-six confirmed cases were documented in the week of Nov. 6-13, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the university is continuing to “monitor the situation closely” and emphasize adherence to public health guidelines as cases rise across the state. Cases are also on the rise nationwide.

“We have seen some increase in socializing among UMass students, including gatherings that were related to Halloween and the election in previous weeks, which reflects statewide and national trends,” Blaguszewski said.

After recording a relatively low number of cases early in the semester, cases first hit a spike in late September. Some of these infections were linked to a COVID-19 cluster that included students who had attended a party together. New cases decreased over the following month before cases began to jump again in late October.

The increase in confirmed positive cases has not affected the university’s plans for the spring semester, Blaguszewski said. Officials announced last month that they would invite around 60% of the university’s usual on-campus population back to campus in the spring. Typically, this population numbers at around 14,000 students.

Blaguszewski said that “the relative number of cases at UMass and in Amherst remain significantly lower than statewide rates.” UMass has a 0.58% seven-day positivity rate, and Amherst has a 0.34% rate, he noted, while the statewide average is 3.06%. The rate reflects the average of all COVID-19 tests that came back positive in the previous week.

The last day of classes at UMass is Friday. As planned before the start of the semester, on-campus students will go home and complete their final exams remotely.

Some other universities have had their plans for the semester disrupted by the state and nationwide surge in cases. At nearby Westfield State University, officials announced Wednesday that the university will shift to all-remote learning for the remainder of the semester and send students home in a controlled move-out process as part of its curtailment plan, citing “lessening capacity for isolation and quarantine cases, and a continually increasing need for related staffing and other resources to manage COVID-19-specific and other campus operations.”

Of the 315 confirmed cases at UMass, 278 cases have occurred among off-campus students. Remaining cases comprise 18 among on-campus students; 17 among staff; and two among faculty members.

Due to the statewide increase in cases, the university has announced additional public health regulations at its Worcester Commons dining facility, Blaguszewski noted, though he said that there is “no evidence to date about an increase in local cases being tied to UMass dining.”

These measures include reducing seating an additional 10% from previous regulations; limiting the number of available booths to provide greater separation; and setting a maximum of six people per table.

The university also sent a message to the campus community last week urging students to get tested two or three days before leaving the area, limit travel during winter break and adhere to other public health guidelines.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.