UMass sees 34 new COVID cases in last 2 days

  • A student blows her nose, right, one of the requirements before entering the Mullins Center for COVID-19 testing, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 at the University of Massachusetts.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2020 6:14:49 PM
Modified: 10/1/2020 6:14:39 PM

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts reported 34 new cases of COVID-19 in the past two days, bringing the cumulative total to 81 since Aug. 6.

Of those cases, 33 are confirmed as associated with a COVID-19 cluster announced late last week, which initially comprised a group of 13 students who had tested positive for the virus. All of those students live off-campus and had socialized together, and some had attended the same party. That cluster grew to 18 students on Tuesday and 28 students on Wednesday.

The university recorded 25 new cases overall on Wednesday, and nine new cases on Thursday.

Students who test positive for the virus are in isolation on and off campus and “are being supported in their needs,” according to the university. Those in self-isolation receive a daily wellness call, campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said when asked how the university is ensuring that these students stay quarantined.

The increase in cases is raising worry for some area residents. Erin Long of Easthampton sent a letter to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy asking him to take steps to protect the safety and well-being of the wider community.

In the letter, Long suggests shutting down the campus or creating a better database so people can know where students are living.

“You had better do something a hell of a lot more serious, and do it now before this spreads like wildfire,” Long wrote. “Lives, livelihoods and this community really do hang in the balance, and I hope that you will not continue to act selfishly in the wake of what could come, and come soon.”

In a news release, the university said that, with the exception of severe or repeated violations of public health measures, it will continue to focus on a “comprehensive educational program,” and that town and university officials will come to students for direct conversations in response to complaints.

In a statement, the university said experience shows the most effective public health practices are education and frequent testing.

“Emphasizing a confrontational approach can be counter-productive and deter participation in contact tracing efforts,” the university stated.

“However, if students are involved in egregious or repeated acts in violation of the UMass Amherst Community Agreement, such matters are forwarded to the Dean of Students for review and potential sanction under the Code of Student Conduct.”

Some community members have criticized this approach as too lenient. In a letter shared with the Gazette, Amherst residents Robin Jaffin and Susan Jahoda urged the university to enforce the UMass agreement and break up parties as they happen, stating that current efforts are “either pre- or post-party — and focus almost solely on ‘education.’”

They added, “the message these adult students receive is there will be no consequences.”

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

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