Hundreds of students who live in a residence hall at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, are now quarantining after several of them tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to an email sent to students Tuesday by college officials.
School officials made the decision to quarantine all 266 residential students living in Monican Hall after learning early Tuesday morning of five positive cases. An additional 11 residents of the dorm had tested positive as of 5 p.m.
"These 16 positive cases identified today follow a single positive case in Monican identified last week, totaling 17 cases in the last seven days," college officials wrote in an email to the school community.
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The cases were identified as a result of "surveillance procedures conducted" at the college as part of its COVID-19 surveillance testing program, school officials said.
"The College considers the number of positive cases in Monican Hall concerning, and is moving aggressively through its protocols of contact tracing, isolation and quarantining to minimize the effect on the campus and community," the email read. "We remind everyone we have built a very impressive surveillance testing system, and it is detecting exactly what it is designed to detect."
All of the dorm's residents were in isolation or quarantine as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, school officials said. Over 250 of them are doing so off of campus, as is the college's policy, according to school officials.
The remaining residents are isolating or quarantining in campus-designated quarantine spaces. Monican Hall was empty as of Tuesday night, and it will be systematically and professionally cleaned and disinfected before anyone moves back in, according to school officials.
"We want to thank all the Monican students and their parents for their patience and diligence in moving off of the campus this morning by implementing the predetermined departure plans so quickly and acting to protect others," the email read. "We are very sorry this is happening to our Monican Hall students."
As part of the college's student isolation protocols, if students live farther than 200 miles away, if they have at-risk relatives at home, or other special circumstances, they will be isolated in an area the college has set aside, according to Fall 2020 guidelines on the college's website.
School officials said they do expect more positive cases as a result of their aggressive testing of Monican students.
"Our goal is to minimize campus-wide outbreaks by identifiying positive cases and quarantining/isolating community members to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and thus preventing an outbreak in one area from spreading across the campus," Hopey wrote. "We prepare for this, and we will do everything possible to stop the spread and minimize any impact."
Students on campus Tuesday were shocked to hear of the cases.
"When I walked into class, everyone had that same expression on their face like, 'oh no. We're going to be like every other campus. We're going to shut down and everything," said junior Dorian Straker.
Meanwhile, the campus remains open and classes are on schedule.
"We have a choice of whether or not we wanted to come and so the people that made that choice understand what's at risk here," said freshman Katie Adams.
Over the past week, there have been three additional positive cases of the virus at the college, however none were residential students. The positive cases were two commuters and one staff member, school officials said.