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Coronavirus outbreak reported among 13 UMass Amherst students

Swabs for COVID-19 tests inside a coronavirus testing area for students at UMass Amherst.
Swabs for COVID-19 tests inside a coronavirus testing area for students at UMass Amherst.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts Amherst became the latest New England institution to report a coronavirus outbreak on Friday, announcing that 13 students tested positive for the illness this past week.

The students, who live off campus, are known to have socialized together, and several attended a party with one another, according to the statement. A letter sent to UMass Amherst students said additional positive cases could be reported in the coming days as health officials work to identify close contacts.

University officials said in an e-mail to the Globe Sunday that they were unable to provide further details on the party that the students attended.

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Students who live on campus or who attend campus for in-person classes are required to be tested for the coronavirus twice a week, according to university policy. Undergraduates in the area who do not attend classes on campus are encouraged, but not required, to be tested twice a week as well, and graduate students attending online classes are asked to seek weekly tests.

Health officials are notifying those who came in close contact with the students so they can perform COVID-19 tests and place them in quarantine, officials said.

Jeff Hescock, executive director of environmental health and safety at the school, reminded students to wear face coverings, avoid gatherings, and maintain social distancing practices in a statement released Saturday.

“Testing, while extremely important, tells us whether someone is infected, but does not protect a person from becoming infected,” he said. “Good public health practices are critical to the success of preventing COVID transmission.”

Several colleges and universities in New England have reported coronavirus outbreaks in recent weeks. More than 100 students at the University of Rhode Island were ordered to quarantine after several Greek Life members tested positive for the virus last week. Officials at Merrimack College in North Andover also reported an additional 47 cases on Thursday, leading officials to require all 266 students living inside one of the school’s residence halls to quarantine.

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Abigail Feldman can be reached at abigail.feldman@globe.com.