UMass COVID cases fall for third straight week

  • University of Massachusett Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2021 10:54:00 AM

AMHERST — New COVID-19 cases at the University of Massachusetts fell to their lowest number of the fall semester in the latest report released this week.

In the dashboard covering the week from Sept. 29 through Wednesday, 21 new COVID-19 cases were identified, of which 14 were among students living on campus, six among students living off campus and one among faculty and staff members. The only time cases had been as low previously this fall was between Aug. 25 to 31, when 22 cases were identified.

This marked the third straight week of a downward trend at UMass, with 6,391 tests administered and a .33% positivity rate. The outbreak peaked at 380 new cases and, a 4.18% positive rate among 9,082 tests, between Sept. 8 to 14.

Accompanying the report was a letter from Jeffrey Hescock and Ann Becker, the co-directors of the Public Health Promotion Center, which has run the testing site and vaccine clinics. They wrote that one staff member has needed hospitalization over the past week due to contracting the respiratory illness.

“Positive cases are predominately among undergraduate students connected to unmasked social activities,” they wrote. “Most cases are of short duration resulting in mild-to-moderate illness.”

The tests include those mandated for unvaccinated faculty, staff and students who have exemptions, people who have voluntarily gone in for asymptomatic and symptomatic testing, and adaptive testing for people who were selected to participate.

Their letter also urges continuing vigilance in following public health protocols, such as wearing masks indoors and also outdoors when social distancing is not possible. 

In Amherst, 30 active COVID-19 cases are identified. Amherst College has four active, two who are students and two who are faculty and staff, and Hampshire College has no new cases.

Public health co-directors honored

Meantime, Becker and Hescock were recently honored by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy with the Chancellor’s Medal for their efforts. Subbaswamy described them in a statement as having “shouldered an unrelenting amount of responsibility… with grace, humility and humor.”

“When the global pandemic abruptly descended upon us in March 2020, beginning one of the most challenging times in our almost 160-year history, the university looked to Ann Becker and Jeff Hescock,” Subbaswamy said.

The Chancellor’s Medal is the highest honor the campus bestows on individuals and is given for exemplary and extraordinary service. Hescock and Becker created the COVID-19 emergency response strategy that followed their earlier successful work to stem a campus meningitis outbreak.

Becker is the campus public health director and a clinical associate professor in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing. Hescock is executive director of environmental health and safety and emergency management.

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

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