COVID-19 cases spike at UMass

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/4/2021 8:04:22 PM

AMHERST — A significant spike in COVID-19 cases at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believed to be mostly among undergraduate students, is prompting several restrictions aimed at combating the spread of infection.

The university announced Friday that it would be moving to an “elevated” operational posture, meaning that no student gatherings of any kind are allowed on or off-campus, that all institutional dining is grab and go, that visitors are not allowed on campus, and that the Campus Recreation Center will only offer virtual activities.

New COVID-19 cases Monday totaled 36, followed by 103 new cases Tuesday and another 100 new cases Wednesday, by far the most cases of the viral illness the university has had on any single days, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. In total, there are 328 active cases at UMass.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said when the university planned to bring back more than 5,000 students at the end of January, a significant increase over the 1,000 students on campus in the fall, it made a commitment to monitor COVID-19 cases closely and inform the community immediately if there was an increase in cases.

“What we’re seeing is some undergraduate students are not following the protocols they should be,” Blaguszewski said.

However, Blaguszewski said there hasn’t been a triggering event identified, and the vast majority of students appear to be complying with wearing masks and social distancing, as evidenced by no transmission in classrooms or laboratories. The university provides isolation and quarantine space and also offers robust contact tracing, he said.

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the testing, contact tracing and strong enforcement was pledged by UMass.

“We were supportive of the reopening because of the strong underlying foundation they have,” Bockelman said. “We’re hoping this is a wake-up call for students.”

But he added that it is a concern because students shop in the same stores and restaurants as residents, and he worries about their long-term health.

A letter to the campus community from Jeffrey Hescock and Ann Becker, co-directors of the Public Health Promotion Center where testing of all students is occurring regularly, advises that protocols to prevent spreading COVID-19 must be followed.

“Contact tracing data indicates that transmission of the virus is especially prevalent among some undergraduate students not following social distancing and mask protocols in social or residential settings, both on and off campus.”

Local caseloads

While cases increased at UMass, rates of COVID-19 decreased in most cities and towns in Hampshire County over the past two weeks compared with the previous two weeks.

Cases in Northampton and Amherst increased, however, and Granby and Southampton were labeled red, or the riskiest category for COVID-19 transmission.

Municipalities with a population between 10,000 and 50,000 are in the red category if they have 10 or more cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 5% or more. Towns with fewer than 10,000 residents are in the red category if they have more than 25 total cases.

Cases were lower in Holyoke, but the city was still in the red category. Five staff members in the city’s schools tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week and one student tested positive, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Granby and Hadley schools both had a staff member test positive for COVID-19 since late January.

Across Hampshire County, the percentage of tests that were positive was 1.86% in the two-week period preceding Feb. 2 — the lowest rate in the state after Franklin County.

The state also released a weekly vaccination report on Thursday. Across the state, 149,030 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were given in the past week.

The state has received 896,300 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and 681,472 have been administered.

Some 16,050 vaccine doses have been shipped to Hampshire County, which is 9.8% of the county’s population, according to the state data.


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