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UMass bans student gatherings, tightens other restrictions, after sudden case rise this week

UMass students walking on campus last week.
UMass students walking on campus last week.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts Amherst says a worrisome rise in coronavirus cases has led it to tighten a number of restrictions, including imposing a ban on all student gatherings.

“Given a concerning rise in new positive COVID-19 cases, predominantly among undergraduate students, the operational posture of the campus has been changed to ‘Elevated.’ This institutes new restrictions on many everyday activities,” the university said Friday in a series of tweets.

The new restrictions go into effect at 3 p.m. Friday.

Restrictions include a ban on student gatherings of any size, a ban on visitors to campus, and a ban on in-person dining.

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Face-to-face instruction and research spaces remain open, the university said. “With public health protocols successfully in place in academic spaces, there is no evidence that transmission has occurred during in-person instruction, and those classes will continue as planned,” university officials said Friday in a statement.

Spring semester classes began Monday. The university has said that about 5,400 students, or 39 percent of capacity, were expected to live on campus. That was up from about 1,100 students who lived on campus in the fall. The university estimated that another 7,000 to 8,000 students would live off campus in the area, a number similar to the fall. For all students, the “great majority” of classes will be remote, the university has said.

The officials blamed the rise in cases on undergraduates.

“Contact tracing data indicates that transmission of the virus is especially prevalent among some undergraduate students not following social distancing and mask protocols in social or residential settings, both on and off campus. Strict adherence to protocols must occur to protect public health,” they said.

Recent test results found 239 new positive cases from Monday to Wednesday, with a growing positivity rate of 2.9 percent, officials said.

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“It is imperative that every one of us follow proper protocols to help protect the community, and it is only by adhering to these practices that we can limit the spread of the virus and begin to resume more normal activities. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and will provide weekly updates to the campus community,” the co-directors of the university’s Public Health Promotion Center said.

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said, “We’re concerned for the people who have contracted COVID-19, the young people, and concerned that the university is part of Amherst and Amherst is part of the university, and we all swim in the same fish tank.”

“A good thing out of this is the university has a very robust testing system available to students, staff, and the community at large,” he said. “Without that very aggressive testing we would not have discovered this as quickly as they did.”

“I hope this is a wakeup call for the students that it’s really hard, but we can’t just be having parties and this broad socializing happening in town,” he said.



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.