As 266 students remain in isolation, officials at Merrimack College are waiting on 150 test results to understand the breadth of the school's coronavirus outbreak.
At least 20 students have tested positive so far on the campus in North Andover, Massachusetts, including 17 who live in the same dorm. Hundreds of students are now under quarantine orders in Monican residence hall.
School officials decided to issue an isolation order after 17 people tested positive in the past week, according to an email sent to students Tuesday by President Christopher Hopey.
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 from Hopey 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 officials.
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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, officials said.
"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 further than 200 miles away, if they have at-risk relatives at home, or if they have 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 identifying 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 outbreak.
"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," freshman Katie Adams said.
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.