UMass opening, students’ return troubles Amherst Town Council

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2020 11:46:44 AM

AMHERST — With a larger-than-ordinary number of college students remaining in town for the summer, and the possibility that more students will choose off-campus accommodations in the fall, Amherst officials are preparing for potential public safety and public health impacts.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Town Council on Monday that the reopening plan unveiled by the University of Massachusetts earlier in the day likely will mean that more students will be living and studying in Amherst, both in dormitories and in rentals, than had been expected.

“They are responding to what the market is actually telling them which is that a lot of students want to be in Amherst, which is something that has us concerned,” Bockelman said.

Even though most classes will be conducted remotely, rather than in classrooms and laboratories, many students are still planning to be in town.

While Bockelman’s information is mostly anecdotal, and he is not getting specific data from landlords and property managers, he said there is a feeling that more students stuck around this summer, possibly because there were no jobs to go home to. This fall, many may need to live off campus as the capacity of dormitories is reduced.

The worry, he said, is that students are coming back from around the United States and world and, when they return, may want to hang out with friends and not follow and not abide by social distancing and other coronavirus prevention guidelines.

“It’s a worrisome recipe,” Bockelman said.

Though police have not seen any major uptick in incidents, Bockelman said complaints about social distancing violations may grow and that what are generally small gatherings, such as 30 to 40 people that don’t have impacts on quality of life, could become super spreader events.

“It’s a complicated environment with our population,” Bockelman said.

Bockelman said health officials will work with UMass and the colleges on safety protocols.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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