Over 350 UMass Amherst Students Face Punishment for COVID Rule Violations

The students could be suspended, removed from on-campus housing, put on probation or formally reprimanded

A sign outside the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, or UMass Amherst
NBC10 Boston, File

Over 350 University of Massachusetts at Amherst students are facing disciplinary measures for violating COVID-19 protocols, resulting in an outbreak that has effectively locked down the campus.

More than 430 coronavirus cases have been reported at the western Massachusetts school in the past week alone, including students and faculty. School officials canceled all in-person learning on Sunday as a result of the outbreak.

According to a document provided to the Amherst Town Council, the school has referred 354 students to the conduct office for violations including breaking quarantine rules, exceeding room capacity, failure to wear masks and social distance, failure to comply with contact tracing and more.

Those students could be suspended, removed from on-campus housing, put on probation or formally reprimanded.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that as far as he understands, the situation at UMass Amherst is primarily focused on the freshman class.

"I don't know exactly how they ended up in this situation," he acknowledged.

Baker said the school's decision to essentially "stay in place" for 10 days to two weeks is "not an unusual way" to address the outbreak.

"They're not the first campus to use that as a strategy to reduce the spread," he noted.

The nation's top doctors, including Dr. Anthony Faucci, are concerned that COVID mutations like those found in South Africa, the UK and Brazil, could undo the recent progress.

As a result of the outbreak, the town of Amherst chose to extend capacity limits and a business curfew that were set to loosen on Monday.

The Amherst Board of Health extended the 25% capacity ceiling and the 9:30 p.m. closing time for many industries indefinitely in an emergency order adopted on Sunday, the same day that UMass Amherst officials raised the university's risk level and shuttered in-person activities in the face of nearly 400 active cases.

Neighboring towns are also said to be weighing their own extensions of the business restrictions.

New COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts are trending downward, but health officials are warning people not to let their guard down.

Contact tracing efforts at UMass Amherst have found that COVID-19 transmission has been "especially prevalent among some undergraduate students not following social distancing and mask protocols," Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in a message to the school community.

Subbaswamy raised the school's risk level to "high" -- just two days after he deemed it "elevated" -- and imposed a range of sweeping restrictions on campus life.

For the foreseeable future, all UMass Amherst classes will take place remotely, and students in dormitories and off-campus housing are instructed not to leave their residences except for meals, COVID testing twice per week, and medical appointments. All athletic practices and competitions have been canceled.

The near-shutdown on campus will remain in place until at least Feb. 21, and officials will only lift it "if the public health situation improves significantly."

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