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Holy Cross off-campus party linked to 21 COVID-19 cases, according to Worcester officials

A COVID-19 test.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A large off-campus party earlier this month at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester has spawned a cluster of COVID-19 cases, according to city officials.

As of Saturday, 21 cases of COVID-19 had been linked to the party, according to city spokesman Walter Bird Jr.

Although Holy Cross is holding all classes online this fall — and the semester has not even begun — college officials said in a letter to the student body that campus police responded to a “large party” students threw at a rented off-campus apartment on College Street the night of Aug. 15.

Officials blasted the party in the letter, released days after the gathering when only one confirmed COVID-19 case among partygoers had been confirmed.


“Not only did the number of people in attendance exceed the state limit on the number of people at a gathering, but attendees were not wearing masks or adhering to physical distancing guidelines,” Michele C. Murray, dean of students, said in the letter.

The letter vowed that the students responsible for the party would be held accountable.

“Hosting and attending a gathering of this size, in close quarters, with no masks, is highly irresponsible and violates our most important Holy Cross values of commitment and service to others,” she said.

According to Bird, 20 other Holy Cross students linked to the party or in direct contact with partygoers have since contracted the virus. As of Friday, there were 5,803 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Worcester, according to the city’s website. At least two other Worcester colleges have reported coronavirus cases in the past 30 days: four each at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University.

“In the wake of COVID-positive student cases at Holy Cross, the City has been working collaboratively with the College to identify those who have tested positive as well as those who need to be quarantined,” city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said in an e-mailed statement to the Globe Sunday. “The City intends to meet with College officials as soon as possible to discuss strategies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on and off-campus.”


A college spokesman did not provide details about the party, but said students “have been reminded of their responsibilities to each other and to the greater community.”

“Any student who attended the party has been instructed to get tested and to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Any student who hosts a party will be held accountable under our student conduct policy,” the spokesman, John Hill, said in an e-mail.

Hill did not provide information on how many students were told to isolate as a result of the party.

Holy Cross is a Jesuit liberal arts college founded in 1843 with just over 3,000 students, according to the school’s website.

College officials spoke more strongly in their letter days after the event, warning students that such behavior jeopardized their presence on campus.

“Put simply: We will not be able to welcome back the entire campus community, or even a larger cohort than we have this fall, if students cannot demonstrate the self-discipline, mutual respect, and care for others by following requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The letter, also signed by the college’s director of health services and associate dean of students, said Holy Cross was “terribly disappointed by the events of the past weekend. The students who took part in this event should be equally disappointed,” officials said.


“We can do better. We must do better,” they said.

Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.