AMHERST, Mass. (AP) — The University of Massachusetts is planning to return to in-person classes Monday after a previous surge in COVID-19 cases led the school to pause campus instruction for two weeks.
University officials say recent restrictions have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19, allowing the school to decrease its risk level from “high” to “elevated.” The decision was made with input from the state's Department of Public Health, according to a Friday message from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.
Students will be allowed to attend classes on campus as long as they comply with requirements to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. Sports teams will be allowed to resume practices and away competitions, but there will be no home games until mid-March.
Subbaswamy warned that students will be barred from holding unauthorized gatherings of any size, adding that small gatherings without masks and social distancing were “a significant cause” of the recent surge.
The university saw a sharp increases in infections starting in February, with more than 700 cases reported in the first two weeks of the month. Since then, the infection rate has decreased, according to university data.
The chancellor said nearly 580 students had been referred to the school's conduct office since Jan. 1, and some students have been suspended or removed from school housing for violating restrictions.
In the coming weeks, the state will intervene and work with U.S. Department of Agriculture and Vermont Foodbank to fix problems with a pandemic-related federal food distribution program that has had significant challenges this month, Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
He said food boxes will be ready on March 1.
Vermont’s congressional delegation recently sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack saying the New Jersey vendor picked for the latest round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program was failing to meet the needs of hungry residents. They said Global Trading Enterprises, LLC, was only delivering food boxes to seven locations in just five of the state’s 14 counties.
An email was sent to Global Trading Enterprises seeking comment.
Smith said Gov. Phil Scott instructed him to fix the issues with the program.
As in previous rounds, Vermonters can register online on the Department of Human Resources website to receive a food box. The website will be updated next week with available days and locations, Smith said. Those without internet access may call 211 to sign up.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 130 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths on Sunday.
The agency said at least 70 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus, including 24 in critical care. More than 43,000 positive cases have been reported in the state since the start of the pandemic along with 658 deaths.
The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 2.07%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Maine the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 3.07% on Feb. 6 to 2.07% on Feb. 20.