Merrimack College is shifting to online classes for the week after learning of a dozen more coronavirus cases believed to be unrelated to a cluster confined to one residence hall.
The new isolated positive cases included three commuters, one employee and eight student who live on campus, according to a letter from college administrators. Everyone who has tested positive is now in isolation and their direct contacts are now in quarantine, officials said.
The college shutdown Monican residence hall after learning of a coronavirus outbreak that lead to nearly 70 students testing positive. The additional 12 cases, reported through Saturday, were among nearly 4,500 commuters, residential students and employees who were tested last week.
"None of the additional positive cases appear, at this time, to be connected to the Monican cluster, and we continue to aggressively test and watch the Monican impact," administrators wrote.
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While students take classes online Monday, Sept. 28 through Friday, Oct. 2, officials said they will continue to collect and evaluate results as they ramp up testing. In-person classes are slated to resume on Monday, Oct. 5.
Students living on campus are required to get tested Monday, Sept. 28 by 5 p.m., "regardless of their regularly scheduled testing times," officials wrote. Everyone will be tested twice by the end of the week. Administrators urged students who are already on campus to stay on campus in a letter to the community.
Many went home over the weekend amid a "heightened increase in anxiety and concerns," according to a letter from President Christopher Hopey, Executive Vice President Jeffrey Doggett and Interim Provost Sean Condon.
"Our goal has been to make everyone feel safe, and going remote for the week, as we work to flush this virus from our campus, we hope will help ease the stress and concerns," the officials wrote. "This entire process has given the College the opportunity to think about how best to support the campus community in ways we never imagined before."
Students who left campus over the weekend must be tested when they come back. They will be required to quarantine in their rooms for about 24 hours until they get their results.
The campus will remain open and operational and resident halls will be fully open, except for Monican.
The College will be making further announcements to Monican Hall residents about testing and returning to campus and students should expect to hear from the College by Wednesday, Sept. 30.
"We are doing this out of an enormous abundance of caution," they wrote. "What the Monican cluster has taught us is that COVID-19 is very complex and the impact can be swift and large. Although we planned extensively for a temporary move to remote learning, and a potential outbreak of a campus cluster, the mental health of students, faculty and staff, and its impact is very difficult to plan for."