COVID cases rise again at UMass

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2020 9:17:47 PM

AMHERST — COVID-19 cases are on the rise again at the University of Massachusetts, with 60 new cases reported in the most recent week of available data. 

As of Monday afternoon, the university’s cumulative total of COVID-19 cases since early August has climbed to 234. Of these cases, 208 are linked to off-campus students; 10 to on-campus students; 14 to staff members; and two to faculty members.

According to campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, UMass public health officials believe that the increase is linked to a statewide rise in COVID-19 cases and not associated with a cluster. But the university “did see some increase in socializing related to Halloween and the election, which may have affected our numbers,” Blaguszewski said.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman last week told the Gazette that students registered 80 parties over Halloween weekend through the university’s Party Smart program. The registration system, established in 2016, allows off-campus students who register their parties in advance to receive a courtesy call and 20 minutes to break up a party before authorities take action in the event that a complaint is filed. 

The Party Smart Registration has been suspended since Wednesday due to Gov. Charlie Baker’s updated COVID-19 regulations, according to the program’s web page

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek also acknowledged that the increase is “a result of some of the gatherings that took place around Halloween.”

“There were a lot of gatherings, but they were all for the most part very small,” Ziomek said, noting that student gatherings were “by and large” limited to 10 people or fewer. 

The increase in cases comes after the university’s announcement in late October that it plans to welcome thousands more students back to campus for the spring semester, after hosting around 1,100 students in the fall. The university said that around 60% of the on-campus student population, which reaches around 14,000 students during a typical year, will receive an invitation back to campus. This plan drew mixed reactions, including hope and anxiety, among community members who spoke with the Gazette last month.

When asked if the recent spike in cases has affected the university’s plans for the spring semester, Blaguszewski said that UMass is “proceeding with our spring operating plan as announced a couple of weeks ago.”

Blaguszewki noted that the university’s 0.44% seven-day positivity rate for new COVID-19 cases remains lower than the state’s seven-day average, which is 2.27%.

Ziomek said that the recent jump in cases is somewhat expected, but that he is encouraged by the university’s testing initiatives, contact tracing and quarantine efforts. The town will also “continue to be vigilant,” Ziomek said, though he cautioned that more cases may arise in the community as the holiday season approaches.

“It’s good to put it in perspective that our numbers have been relatively low for a number of weeks now,” Ziomek said. “This is not really a huge surprise when we have certain events, or as we look forward to things like Thanksgiving and the winter holidays we may see these upticks as we move forward.”

The town will continue to meet regularly with the university as the spring semester draws closer, Ziomek said. 

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


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